It was entertaining, even if contrived.
Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods baiting each other with what would normally be obscene amounts of money – with Lefty throwing down $100,000 that he birdies the first hole. “Double it,” Tiger said with a smile.
For all the entertainment value The Match: Tiger vs. Phil may or may not provide – depending on a pay-per-view audience that remains aloof when it comes to Friday’s made-for-television event in Las Vegas – it’s neither the ratings nor the possibility for a non-stop parade of silly “bets” between the two legends that’s worth close attention.
For those within golf, the real action will be on what’s called the second screen.
Because of the event’s location and the unique head-to-head format there will be at least one segment of the golf population paying close attention to Friday’s action.
“I’m curious about every single sporting event I watch and the fan engagement opportunities that are created because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in May,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said. “The timing of the match is perfect in that we are coming off of that ruling and we’re spending a lot of time going state by state representing, alongside the NBA and Major League Baseball, what we think is the proper legislation, the proper fan protections and the proper business model.”
Although Tuesday’s press conference between Woods and Mickelson focused on the playful side of the event’s betting roots, it’s what occurs away from the course that interests Tour officials.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in May to overturn the 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports betting in most states created a bold new landscape for all sports leagues, but particularly the Tour.
“Assuming we get to the right place with fan protections and using the right data, our sport is in such a unique position,” Monahan said. “You look at the stick-and-ball sports, you see the ball, there’s one ball and one group of players that are all in front of you. You can see everything on one screen.
“In our sport, you’ve got 78 players out on the golf course at one point in time and we’ve got a system in ShotLink that produces a significant amount of data and a significant amount of possibilities. Think about what that can mean for our game, for our fans, it’s exciting.”
Those possibilities will get something of a cold open on Friday when Mickelson and Woods tee off at Shadow Creek. Although some say The Match is a decade too late, it’s a perfect model for officials to gauge fan interest of potential “in-play” betting. Although the Tour doesn’t have any historical data about Shadow Creek, Mickelson’s track record from, say, 10 feet (he ranked 164th last season on Tour with a 33.8 percent conversion) is well documented.
While the banter between Tiger and Phil on the first green may be entertaining, it’ll be the action on that second screen as Lefty lines up his 10-footer for birdie that Tour officials will be watching.
“You’ve got second, third and fourth screens now,” Monahan said. “I do see a day where you can have a stats-based channel, or a lot of your data that is organized around fan-engagement opportunities and gaming opportunities. I can see that.”
Since the court’s ruling in May, the Tour, along with other sports leagues, has been working with state legislators around the country to create a sports betting framework that includes fan protections and information standards that would require Tour-related bets to use the circuit’s ShotLink data.
In May, the NBA named MGM Resorts its exclusive gaming partner, and on Monday the Tour announced IMG Arena would distribute the circuit’s scoring data for media usage and sports betting purposes.
IMG Arena will distribute data to “international” regulated sports betting and gaming markets and in return IMG will support the Tour’s integrity program, which began this year as the sport braced for betting. For Monahan and the Tour, it signals a significant step toward those second and third screens and checks off many of the concerns officials have toward sports betting.
“If we can’t get to a federal framework or the right regulation on a state-by-state basis and we don’t have the proper consumer protections, that would be concerning,” Monahan said. “I’m hopeful that is something we will avoid.”
The next step will be Friday’s match between Woods and Mickelson. What kind of bets are fans interested in? What’s the level of interest for in-play bets? What’s the volume of betting?
If social media is any gauge, the price for Friday’s pay-per-view match ($19.99) appears to be too rich for some fans who are aren’t accustomed to paying for their golf. But for Tour officials who are preparing to embrace the sports betting landscape it will be money well spent.