The R&A e-Open: Engaging seasoned golfers and attracting new interest alike

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick July 23, 2021 11:00

It’s been a disruptive 18 months for golfers and golf fans, to say the least. With courses shut for large periods, many will have found themselves at a loose end trying to replace the feeling of nailing a perfect drive or hitting a precision putt. Happily, such issues have largely abated as the vast majority of courses in the UK have now opened again. However, some golf innovations brought to the fore as a result of COVID-19 course closures are here to stay. Chief among them is the e-Open Tournament, the second edition of which gets underway in mid-August.

Last year’s inaugural e-Open Tournament generated huge interest, partly as a result of the shift in market landscape owing to the ongoing pandemic (the actual 2020 Open being cancelled, of course), but also because it was a free-to-play event, open to anyone with a free player profile on the World Golf Tour game. Golf has a reputation in some quarters for being an exclusive game with high financial barriers to entry when compared to other popular sports, so free-to-play online events are an effective way to attract new interest in the sport.

The e-Open also taps into the growing excitement and hype surrounding esports in general. Formerly a niche crossover between video gaming and sports culture, esports is now a mammoth industry in its own right with global viewership almost doubling over the last six years, according to Business Insider.

While much of this interest focuses on major PC gaming titles such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, there are plenty of real-world sports that have made a digital splash, too. Most notable of these is probably football sim FIFA, which boasts its own Global Series and World Cup events that offer players prize pools in the millions of dollars.

It should also be mentioned that the surging interest in esports has created a whole world of new opportunities for those who like to have a flutter on sports. Many esports events can be bet on both pre-match and in-play at the UK’s best online betting sites (often supported by live streaming), and it will surely not be too long before bookies cotton on to the appeal of golf esports events.

As well as watching the professionals duke it out on TV, many sports fans are clearly attracted by the opportunity to engage in competitive play from the comfort of their own homes – something that the powers that be in global golf can look to leverage more going forward. In terms of new revenue-generation streams, esports seems like low-hanging fruit for organisations like The R&A, especially when top-tier sponsors like Mastercard are eager to get involved.

In addition to attracting new interest in golf, esports events like the e-Open serve to increase engagement among existing fans. Not only can they play at a faithfully (and impressively) rendered Royal St George’s – something that most will never get the chance to do in real life – but there’s also the small carrot on a stick of an all-expenses-paid trip to next year’s Open for the e-Open winner.

 

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick July 23, 2021 11:00
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