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GoPro and golf look to each other for new life

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

GoPro (GPRO) shares continued to fall Thursday morning when the market opened, after the camera maker reported ugly fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday. The company posted a 31% decline in sales, while lowering guidance for the next quarter. The stock is down more than 80% in the last six months and in the last year.

But a new partnership with the PGA Tour could be mutually beneficial for both parties. Golf, too, is stumbling: the sport's biggest stars keep getting younger, but its fans are staying the same age.

Participation in golf has been flat for years, according to the National Golf Foundation. Equipment sales are in decline and took such a hit in 2014 that Adidas has explored selling off its golf business TaylorMade, the industry's No. 1 player by market share. For nine straight years, more golf courses in the U.S. have closed than opened. And golf's TV ratings have struggled over the last few years, although the 2015 Masters saw a 23% bump over the year before, attributable to an exciting finish involving its biggest young stars, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.

The PGA Tour knows that the only potential solution to what ails golf is recruiting younger fans by focusing on golf's younger stars. Thus, flashy technology is at the heart of its newest partnership. This week, the PGA Tour announced a deal with GoPro and SkratchTV, the sport's own online video network, to "deliver never-before-seen perspectives and episodic video content to golf fans around the world."

Translation: Golf is going extreme. The sport sees potential to woo millennials with GoPro's dizzying, high-octane P.O.V. shots that the camera maker has traditionally brought to more extreme sports like skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX, and mountain biking. "We're intrigued," said Rick Anderson, the PGA Tour's executive vice president of media, in a press release, "to GoPro the game of golf."

What does that mean? For starters, expect to see the GoPro HERO cameras show up on the course—in as unobtrusive a way as possible. "We're not up to using drones yet, although there is a lot of discussion of that," says the Tour's senior vice president, Norb Gambuzza, in an interview with Yahoo Finance. "But there will be guys shooting with GoPros and doing things with camera placement and positioning that we have not done before. I think fans will look at it and say, 'Hmmm, what's going on over there?' We are always looking to push the envelope in how we shoot and distribute our content."

The views debuted on Wednesday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and included a digital-only broadcast on Skratch, live from the course's stadium-like 16th hole.

The PGA Tour has been ramping up its tech ventures at an increased pace in the last two years. Last year, it launched Skratch, a sort of in-house digital network to bring golf to the youngs. The site posts on-the-scene video clips, like Phil Mickelson throwing footballs to fans. The PGA Tour also signed a deal with MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) to produce PGA Tour Live. MLBAM has become the go-to white-label video producer for everyone from the NHL to HBO Go to Glenn Beck's web program, The Blaze.

GoPro was the obvious next partner in this trend, even though the once-hot camera maker has lost much of its sheen on Wall Street. The brand has established itself in the sports world, much like how Red Bull successfully tied its image to extreme sports. Golf footage that uses GoPro's "spherical capture technology" will be distributed everywhere the three parties involved can possibly put it: GoPro's Web channel, app, and social media accounts; YouTube; and on Skratch, which Gambuzza calls "the linchpin" of the strategy.

"We are trying to embrace inevitable change but do so in a way that maintains the history, tradition, and integrity of the game of the golf," says Gambuzza. George and Wesley Bryan (the Bryan Bros.) provide a good example of the Tour's efforts: the two brothers shoot "trick shot" videos, post them to Instagram and YouTube, and in general promote hijinx that aren't usually seen on the buttoned-up courses of the PGA Tour. But the Tour has embraced and promoted their content, and bigger stars like Rory McIlroy have joined them for videos.

"The younger players that are emerging now are so much more socially engaged than our players have ever been before," says Gambuzza. "They’re producing content, sharing it, [and] they engage with fans on social media. It is a different paradigm for us. But it’s a great paradigm."

Not everyone agrees: Donald Trump, in an interview with Fortune last year, dismissed the myriad recent efforts to make the sport younger and more accessible. "Let golf be elitist," he said. "Let people work hard and aspire to some day be able to play golf. To afford to play it. They’re trying to teach golf to people who will never be able to really play it. They’re trying too hard... I think it’s very damaging to the game."

The PGA Tour can't hold that exclusionary view, because the sport can no longer afford it. Gambuzza says the deal with GoPro helps the Tour showcase its players in a new way for existing fans that in a way that will appeal to new fans. But it has to do that in an authentic way that doesn't alienate the older players and fans, who still make up the majority of the Tour's base.—75% of the "golf population" is older than 35, according to the National Golf Foundation.

"There's definitely a balance between serving your core fan, which we have done very well for decades, and reaching out to new ones in a voice that is a little more appropriate to a 24-year-old than it is to a 45-year- old," says Gambuzza. "We need to meet new fans halfway and talk to them in their voice, on their platforms."

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Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. 


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