FOR DECADES, professional golf has had a stable business model. Corporate sponsors pay millions to put their names on tournaments in deals that also require them to buy commercial time during broadcasts. That, in turn, drives more revenue to the PGA Tour through broadcast rights deals.
But as with all professional sports, the landscape for the Tour is growing more complex. Traditional television viewership is in decline. Even as tournaments will pay out a record $363 million in prize money this season, Tour executives are trying to figure out how to reach a wider audience through a greater array of media channels.
At the center of that effort is Joe Arcuri, who joined the Tour as chief marketing officer in June 2017 after a two year stint at Newell Rubbermaid. He previously spent more than 25 years in marketing, product development and other roles at Procter & Gamble. Mr. Arcuri talked with The Wall Street Journal about what kinds of new fans the PGA Tour is chasing and how it is trying to engage them. Following are edited excerpts.
Making a connection
WSJ: How is marketing professional golf similar to marketing consumer packaged goods, as you've done for much of your career, and how is it different?
MR. ARCURI: What I've found similar is how fundamental the power of your ideas is, and the ability to create authentic and engaging connections with your consumer, or in our case our fan. That remains the fuel of great brand-building, and the Tour brand is no exception. The biggest difference is the higher degree of unpredictability inherent in marketing a sport, given the week-to-week variables of live competition. What you have to get really good at is real-time storytelling. You need to be very nimble week-to-week on the story lines that are occurring. One example is from last year's Northern Trust tournament, our first FedExCup playoffs event, when we saw a battle develop down the stretch between Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth. As the afternoon progressed, we produced highlights as it took place and pushed them to sports fans that we knew were watching or involved in other sports that day. We were able to capitalize on a moment and put it in front of fans who didn't know it was happening in real time.
WSJ: What are the Tour's biggest marketing priorities for 2018?
MR. ARCURI: My overall focus is to grow new fans. We have a very strong and affluent core fan base to build on. But to future- proof the Tour, we need to make sure that we're attracting and growing new fans. We've been shaping our marketing plans through a fans-first lens to ensure that our media, our partnership deals, our content across all platforms, right to our on-site tournament experience, will allow us to reach beyond that core fan and attract new fan segments.
WSJ: Who are those new fans?
MR. ARCURI: We're trying to attract millennials, but also what we call sports socialites. Those are a more diverse group of fans. They skew a little bit younger than our core base. They're more diverse in general, and they consume the product at a high rate on both digital and social platforms.
WSJ: What makes “sports socialites” distinct from millennials?
MR. ARCURI: It's not an age thing. It's more a mind-set of how they want to interact with the sport. They are as interested in what we call outside-the-ropes stories as inside-the-ropes stories and competition content. They're interested in what's going on with our players beyond just the competitive action. They have a broader sense of the sport and want to engage with it on different levels.
WSJ: What is the Tour doing to try to better engage those groups?
MR. ARCURI: We are doubling down on our commitment to technology and innovation. We were one of the first sports to put out our broadcast via Twitter. We're partnering with Intel to produce and globally distribute live virtual reality and live 360-degree videos at our Tour events in 2018. And we've recently relaxed our social-media guidelines for our players and our fans, to encourage them to create more content. Jordan Spieth's holed bunker shot to win the Travelers Championship last year was a great example, how fans brought that to life with videos shot from the gallery. We loosened our social-media rules to allow fans to share these moments, and we were then able to find and compile them into a compelling clip that allowed fans that missed it to feel what it was like to be there when Jordan made that shot.
WSJ: Have any of these efforts to attract more millennials had a quantifiable impact so far?
MR. ARCURI: During the FedEx- Cup playoffs last year, we saw 29% year-over-year growth on our digital properties among this group, and since August of last year, our fans in this segment on Facebook have grown 39%.
WSJ: The number of golfers in the U.S. has dropped over the past decade. Do you see potential to build engagement with younger people even if they don't play the game?
MR. ARCURI: Yes, I think that is key. The growth of Top golf, the entertainment-venue chain, shows there's plenty of interest in golf. It's just how you define consuming the product. Is it playing the four- or five-hour round on the weekends? Or is it consuming golf in other ways? I think you appreciate the game more if you actually have given it a try, but we're finding plenty of fans who love the game of golf, love the PGA Tour brand and the events we put on every week, that you wouldn't call traditional golfers.
WSJ: Tiger Woods came into 2018 looking healthier than he had been in years. Can the Tour ever build a marketing plan around him again, given all the injuries he has had?
MR. ARCURI: It would certainly be great for the game to see him in the mix with the very players he inspired to take up the game. For me, that would be special. But that's probably where the real-time storytelling would come in. We would see. We build our plans around what is happening in the game. We have so many great players.
'My overall focus is to grow new fans.'
BY BRIAN COSTA