‘Sell the lifestyle, not the health, benefits of golf’ says neuroscientist

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir June 18, 2022 10:23

A neuroscientist has said that golf’s governing bodies should promote the experience of playing golf ahead of the health benefits if they want more people to improve their health by playing the game.

Stephen Smith, the chief neuroscientist at PSYenz, says that the promotion of the health benefits of golf lead to minimal improvements in participation.

Citing research from the University of Geneva, which shows that promoting the health benefits of participation in a sport or exercise cuts no ice with most people, he says these messages “wash off the target audience like water off a duck’s back.”

“Simply speaking,” he says, “the messages that show that there are numerous health benefits to becoming more active are well known and understood by most people. These messages are so common and promoted by almost all leisure and sports activities that people are becoming immune to them.

“The researchers showed that sports bodies wishing to make their activity more attractive and increase participation should focus on the experiential aspects of participation.

“This makes perfect sense from a psychological point of view. The deep primeval circuits of the human mind look to conserve energy and store fat reserves for the winter. Exercising comes at an energy cost with benefits that are far removed in the future. Promoting immediate returns such as being out in the fresh air or making new friendships is far more likely to overcome the inherent inertia of the human psyche than trying to sell a long term benefit such as health.”

Smith went on to add a warning: “The human mind is also very adept at spotting when an experience does not fulfil the expectation – when you promise a particular experience it creates a powerful psychological contract in the mind of the customer. Too many venues make promises that they never deliver and that is a cardinal sin in the post Covid culture.”

Smith has also assessed the psychological experience of the fans watching the first LIV Golf tournament on a screen, and concluded it was “a good start, but could do better.”

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND – JUNE 11: Charl Schwartzel of Stinger GC celebrates with his caddie Heath Holt on the 18th green following victory during day three of LIV Golf Invitational – London at The Centurion Club on June 11, 2022 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Chris Trotman/LIV Golf/Getty Images)

“It was new and it was different but there was a lack of emotional spark between the event and the watching fan,” he said.

“Human beings adore traditions – across the world every society has its own special days and rituals from Christmas to Diwali. In golf the denizens of The Masters – in terms of majors still the new kid on the block – got this point early on and are the experts when it comes to creating traditions from nothing. Green jacket presentations, skipping balls across a pond, the champion’s dinner menu and crystal for eagles – they have seen the importance of creating traditions to emotionally connect with their audience. LIV golf really needs to take a leaf out of their notebook and create traditions that all their fans can buy into.”

On the team format, he said: “Golf is, generally, an individual sport, but we have seen in the Ryder Cup how much emotion a team even can stir. But fans need to have an emotional connection to the team and that was not easy to do at this first event as it was not clear what each team ‘stood for’. This is exceptionally important, people need to know what the team ‘is about’. Is this team based around wholesome, family values or are they the rebellious team equivalent of John Daly? There is room for both and without a geographical relationship (such as USA vs Europe) fans like to have those emotional choices – which team represents me? This can really be ramped up to add emotional spice to the mix, nothing like a bit of genuine rivalry and edge between teams to spark public interest.

“It was also not easy to identify who a player was playing for. The caddies had the team logo on their bib bit, but that’s not enough. All team members should be going out to play in a team kit or uniform that enables the fans to immediately identify what team they represent – both  friend and foe. Create this bond and you will see the merchandising sales increase with fans wanting to wear the uniform of their team at the event to show their allegiance.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir June 18, 2022 10:23
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1 Comment

  1. Peter June 16, 15:43

    He is right ! It’s what we’ve always done, “selling the experience !” Creating the right culture, through internal marketing and moments of truth! The health benefits were always the reward !

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