This is a guest contribution by Martin de Knijff of Metric Gaming. If you would like to submit a contribution please contact Bill Beatty for submission details. Thank you.
The eyes of the sporting world will descend on Royal Birkdale this week, as the annual celebration of golf that is the Open Championship takes place for the 146th time.
There’s no doubt that the history of the Open puts it right up there with the world’s great sporting occasions, such as the Fifa World Cup, the Olympic Games and the Super Bowl. Golfers dream of the famous Claret Jug, and have nightmares about the challenges thrown up by the links courses that dot the coastline of the UK. We have moments that have gone down in sporting folklore, from the sublime head-to-head battle between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson in 1977 to the ridiculous sight of poor Jean van de Velde getting his feet wet as he threw away what seemed certain victory in 1999. We’ve had amazing performances from multiple winners such as Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods, as well as shock, flash-in-the-pan successes like Paul Lawrie and Todd Hamilton.
While the competition on offer in the Open always seems to ascend the greatest heights, I’ve felt for some time that the betting sector is failing to fully embrace this glorious sport. For me, it’s a gimme that golf should be a Major winner in the in-play betting era. It’s an entertaining sport rich in data and the potential for volatility, and millions of golf fans worldwide would love to put their knowledge to the test if only operators would offer them a wider variety of markets.
TV audience and participation
The Open is now being shown in the UK via subscription service Sky TV, which is reportedly paying £15m a year for the rights. While viewing figures were reportedly way down in 2016 during the first year of the deal, more than a million sports mad viewers – and potential bettors – still tuned in. In the US, golf broadcasts on NBC, Fox and CBS attracted a combined 165 million viewers during the course of 2016.
In contrast, tennis – a superstar of the in-play betting era – attracted just 1.7 million viewers in the US for the 2016 final of the US Open between Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka.
Despite a drop in participation since the heyday of the 1990s, golf participation in the UK remains just above the 3.3 million-mark. Golf is certainly growing in mainland Europe, with France to host the Ryder Cup next year, and participation rates having soared in countries such as Germany and Sweden in recent years. The number of golfers across China is growing at about 8% a year, roughly on a par with the country’s gross domestic product.
Getting the tech right
The interest is certainly there, but how can TV viewers be persuaded to become punters? It is my opinion that the ascent of tennis is due in the main to the development and availability of truly live digital content. Thanks to Metric’s SaaS SuperLive solution, as employed by operators such as BoyleSports and BetStars, this level of service is now available for golf.
Recent market research shows that the punter of today is looking for live betting opportunities that have a maximum lifetime of five minutes. Metric have responded to that customer requirement by offering hole-by-hole betting and a suite of unique SuperLive markets. Rather than just betting on whether Sergio Garcia will hold the Claret Jug on Sunday or selecting the winner of a particular hole, golf fans can now bet on whether Jordan Spieth’s putt will be sunk or the distance of a Rory McIlroy drive.
Compared to other sports’ in-play opportunities, live golf markets are much more accessible to the average punter, as the sport benefits from a ‘game within a g
ame’ format. Every hole of golf provides a new mini-game. The simplicity of the proposition means the focus can remain where it belongs: on the user experience.
Having the right technology is key here – get it wrong and you could be following Van de Velde into the drink. The most common solution for operators is to employ an outsourced sports-betting service, but many of those providers are themselves operating on outdated technology, ill-suited to accommodate the new generation of punter who expects their wagers to mimic our instant gratification culture. They want quickfire betting and expect transactions to take place instantaneously. Thanks to its cutting-edge technology, responsiveness and ease-of-use, SuperLive provides a level of sophistication that allows operators to turn golf from a rookie with potential into a Sunday evening champion.
As for this week, I’d be looking at Irish Open winner Jon Rahm as an outright each-way shot at Birkdale because of his perfect combination of power off the tee with poise on lightning fast greens. For those looking at in-play options I’d recommend focusing on a par three early in the day to see how difficult a pin placement is playing, and then using that knowledge later on. I would also say that if the pin is to the right a contender such as Rickie Fowler will struggle as he strongly prefers to hit a draw.
Golf has a fantastic future, and I have great hope for its potential as a betting proposition.