Recently – at the U.S. Open, at The Country Club, Brookline – I had the chance to interview Jon Podany the Chief Commercial Officer of the USGA. This is what you can read here.
It seems like the USGA’s key component is bringing fans closer to the experience – Can you expand on this and if this is the direction in which the game experience is heading?
It is, and I think fans want an interactive experience and they want this more than just coming to watch a golf tournament. They want those up close and personal types of experiences that we have at the U.S. Open this year.
We have fan grandstands, expanded the amount of hospitality products, we have cabanas this year, The Trophy Club and The Garden which allows us to provide different kinds of experiences from a hospitality standpoint as well as upgraded tickets which have been incredibly popular.
We have an off-site experience for youth who are unable to get on-site because one of the challenges that we have with a place like The Country Club and something that we will have next year at the Los Angeles Country Club (LACC) is that we can only fit 22,000 spectators a day during the week which we pumped up to 25,000 spectators a day for the weekend and in a market like Boston there are a lot more people that would love to be able to come.
The offsite experience gives them the opportunity to at least touch and feel parts of the U.S. Open, the jumbotron with the TV Broadcast, and the Cisco40 experience which provides a lot of stuff for the fans to do there.
Due to the smaller scale site here at the 122nd U.S. Open are you offering the spectators that are here on-site a heightened experience?
Yes, you can see that and this year is a record hospitality year for the USGA even though it is a smaller site, we have introduced some new products and out on the course at the 11th and 13th hole, we have the double-decker hospitality areas that wrap around the green which are important to have with the limited footprint and to still deliver an elevated experience.
But we will take learnings from The Country Club which will certainly help for next year as it is the same kind of experience in LA. We are already tracking well ahead of where we are this year in hospitality for LA, where you will see even more double-decker experiences out there.
The USGA does a lot for the game globally but what are the strategic plans to continue to grow the game?
That is an important aspect for us and I think that you will see us do even more globally, especially with our international distribution and we are going to work on even more customization by country.
That could be more featured groups so that we have a Chinese player, and a Japanese player that we can feed to our partners in different countries, there will be more pre-produced content featuring those players because a lot of our international television partners don’t have commercial pods, so the plan will be to fill those with features of players from respected countries.
I think even tapping into new digital media products and social media products within those countries where it’s more prominent like a Weibo or WeChat and certainly part of our efforts is to globalize the U.S. Open but also the Women’s U.S. Open.
You have talked about your role covering commercial, partnerships, broadcast, digital and other streams but what are the USGA’s commercial priorities from within these streams?
It’s like trying to say who is your favorite child but obviously, our television and digital products are the biggest revenue source overall with NBCU, and the fact that we have 45 hours of live coverage this year, linear coverage and then you have all the digital streams, featured group and featured holes which takes it over 100-hours of live coverage.
That’s a big deal but our partners are a big aspect of that because they not only in helping to fund the championship but also provide a better experience for the fans as well.
Each of them activates in unique ways, with Rolex has been the Official Timekeeper and Official Partner of the USGA showcasing excellence and ensuring that reliable source on the 1st and 10th tees as well as other tees, as the starter gets the groups going each day.
Rolex’s relationship with the USGA and the U.S. Open began in 1980 and Rolex is the Official Timekeeper and Official Partner of the U.S. Open.
It is not all driven by where the revenue sources come from but they are two of the biggest and obviously, that is a factor to consider and what you view to be important.
How do you continue to boost fan engagement and live experiences ensuring you are engaged with your various partners?
Making sure you are in tune and in touch with where people are consuming their entertainment and their sports.
For example, we were not on TikTok until recently and we made a decision coming into championship season to get into TikTok and now one of our videos which went live earlier this week has received over 200k views, which featured Brooks Koepka.
Making sure that it works whether it’s all the social media platforms, the digital platforms, and streaming, or the broadcast range of platforms but we are presenting the championship and giving the fans the option to experience it on whatever platform they want.
What are the USGA’s plans over the next 5 – 10 years focusing on youth participation and reaching new audiences?
The USGA is going to be even more focused on bigger initiatives on what Mike Whan calls ‘Big bold leadership initiatives’ and so diversifying the sport, bringing new people to the game, focusing on going back to the tagline ‘ for the good of the game ‘.
We have taken some big steps in that area already this year by taking the Women’s U.S. Open purse to $10 million and trying to elevate the women’s game as well as with the introduction of the US Adaptive Open for golfers with disabilities and to be more welcoming to that audience.
I think that as Mike talks about the idea of developing a USA Development team and a big part of that would be a significant grant program that allows people, young kids who may have the ability and desire but not the means to continue so we don’t miss out on the next Tiger Woods of the world in both the men’s and women’s game.
I think as we talked about before, just making our product even more compelling and entertaining, and more globally relevant is a lot of what we are going to focus on.