Richard Payne, Sports Marketing Surveys Inc. director, explains how the European Tour is analysing social media data to grow its innovative GolfSixes format.

The way that sport is being consumed is continually evolving, with more and more content being broadcast digitally and across social media than ever before. With the increased competition amongst sponsors, rights holders and brands to get consumer attention, associations such as the European Tour are being forced to work harder to make their product more appealing to a broader audience.

As a result, this constant need for refinement has not only led to an increase in data analysis, it has also led to the development of short form versions of more traditional sports – such as GolfSixes. The short format event is based on fast paced six-hole match-ups with the introduction of concepts such as ‘Shot Clock’ holes and tee-shots to speed up play.

Tom Sammes, the European Tour’s senior strategy manager at the European Tour says the new format is designed to attract a new audience by showcasing a faster, quicker and crucially ‘more engaging’ side of golf.

As the official supplier of research services to the European Tour, Sports Marketing Surveys Inc. (SMS) analysed the debut GolfSixes event in 2017, monitoring public perception around the event very closely. Despite being an overwhelming success, the data revealed that some of the ‘razzmatazz’ was viewed negatively by spectators.

However, by making small tweaks to the format of the event this year in response to those findings, the European Tour successfully tapped into a younger, more engaged audience whilst retaining the sport’s core audience.

In May, the European Tour hosted its second edition of GolfSixes. As well as tracking consumer conversation around the event again, SMS also analysed the conversation online around the new initiatives and changes that were introduced for the first time.

Using SMS INC RADAR’s analysis, we identified that this year’s event was a resounding success. The official #golfsixes hashtag was used by the public, media titles and professionals approximately 1,400 times. Over 95 per cent of commentary from all stakeholders was positive towards the event. This included key target groups such as golf fans (97 per cent positive, 3 per cent negative), golf publications and journalists (100 per cent positive) and the mainstream media (100 per cent positive).

Looking at the positive sentiment in more detail, our analysis revealed that it was the ‘inspiring competition’ (nine per cent of all positive comments), ‘atmosphere’ (seven per cent positive comments) and wider perception of the event as a ‘great day out that brought family and friends together’ (27 per cent positive comments) that contributed to a large proportion of positive commentary around the event.

In terms of the breakdown of the positive sentiment, it was well received across global locations such as the US, Germany, Spain, Ireland and France. This would suggest that there is a strong appetite for potential international expansion moving forwards, with the commentary also making direct comparisons to Rugby Sevens, an event that has already achieved global success.

In fact, an overwhelming ten per cent of all positive sentiment specifically talked about how GolfSixes should replicate Rugby Sevens in the future to expand around the world. This appears to be a trend that many sports are now exploring, with competitions such as tennis’ Tie-Break Tens and Twenty20 cricket taking off in recent years. I only see this trend continuing to grow in the future as rights holders look to tap into new audiences and boost engagement.

The introduction of mixed and ladies’ teams was just one of the major changes made for the 2018 GolfSixes in a bid to make the event more appealing to a wider audience. From our analysis, it was clear this was well received by fans.

Furthermore, around this year’s GolfSixes event, the SMS analysis showed that commentary shifted a little from the previous year, with many fans commenting that the format should be rolled out on a wider scale to help promote the sport and increase participation, especially amongst juniors.

Interestingly this view supports data from another piece of research we conducted with the Golf Foundation earlier this year which has subsequently led to it, in conjunction with the European Tour, launching the GolfSixes League, a junior inter-club league which is played in the same format.

In our role as supplier of research services to the European Tour, it’s important that we take a step back and look at the data both in its pure form and from a wider perspective to help them capitalise on future trends. GolfSixes is still in the early stages of its development and from our analysis, it’s clear that while the brand is still growing, it’s essential that they keep innovating in order to further grow the appeal of the sport and appeal to younger fans, groups of adults and families.

The feedback from the European Tour has been promising, with Sammes telling SMS that the reports allows it to make decisions based upon real data rather than assumption.

In what is a fast-moving industry, market research is absolutely critical to the decision-making process and by demonstrating how real time data analysis can lead the introduction of new initiatives, in turn helping rights holders such as the European Tour deliver a better experience for the consumer which will ultimately lead to increased revenues.

Source: Sports Pro