How Sports Stardom Has the Potential to Change What We Watch and How We Watch it
Hollywood has undergone a seismic shift since the invention of the internet.
A small number of studios controlled what TV shows and movies got bankrolled and distribution. If one of the studios didn’t play ball, you didn’t.
With widespread adoption of the internet, Netflix, Hulu, Prime, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and traditional networks, there is mountains of content. Leverage has flipped from the studios to the creators. Social media has empowered artists to be their own marketing machines and operate without the financing and infrastructure of larger players. A smartphone or microphone has enabled anyone to be a creator reaching millions.
Although I didn’t watch the (“The Match”) Phil v. Tiger pillow-fight (not great golf was the resounding consensus), the result was a heavily-promoted, discussed and sponsored event that has the potential to shake up the sports world in a way similar to how Hollywood was disrupted.
*Following paragraph added on 4/4/2020
Professional football was a fledgling business in the 1920s — a far cry from what it is today.
The concept alone was loathsome to most sports fans.
“Football, when played with the amateur spirit, possesses more elements for the development of character and manhood than any sport I know,” said University of Chicago head coach Amos Stagg.
The early founders of the league persevered despite the public’s resentment and significant losses.
Enter, University of Illinois running back, Red Grange, the most touted college football player in the country who signed with the New York Giants. Grange’s star-power was unmistakable.
Gate receipts after one game surpassed $143,000, erasing Giant’s owner Tim Mara’s debt for the entire season. “I was about ready to toss in my hand until Grange turned pro,” Mara said later.
Red Grange, individually, saved the NFL and proved for it to be a viable and profitable venture.
Sports leagues like the NBA and PGA provide infrastructure. They manage the media, legal complexities, upfront costs, business relationships, and TV rights that allow the players to focus on playing. Those are many of the same things the studios provided back in the day. You couldn’t have a lucrative event without those things.
Tiger v. Phil is a window into the future of a world where athletes don’t need the sports leagues. Sport leagues will probably always exist, but their importance may be diminished as the players themselves have enough star-power (as do Tiger and Phil) to basically guarantee the success of an event.
Bleacher Report, a digital sports media company owned by Turner, broadcast the event online for $19.99 as a pay-per-view event. A major malfunction forced Turner to issue refunds and make the event available to all. Viewership numbers haven’t been made public, but my guess is that there was a lot of competition to own the distribution rights for an event this juicy. Traditionally, they would need a PGA to help secure distribution. If Tiger calls about an event like this, what media company is stupid enough to not listen?
Tiger Woods can move the needle like no other athlete in the history of sports (Source: 538). Phil Mickelson is no slouch himself, the second most popular golfer over the last two decades. Two titans battling is a headline that sells.
The event was well-promoted to general sports fans and gamblers who could make prop bets during the match. Similar to a movie star promoting their project on late-night shows, Tiger and Phil went on a press tour, shows like ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, to promote the event.
“Capital One the Match” was the official name of the match. Catching unique shots of the action was the “Drone View by AT&T,” and the tracer will be the “TopTracer, presented by Capital One.” There was a $9 million bet on the match that made for a good PR headline, but even the loser is due to make a butt-load of cash either way.
Why this is so fascinating to me is because we will see this happen in sports I actually care about. One of the draws of the event was supposed to be the intimacy of the event — no crowd, just them playing mano-a-mano. Where it failed was much of the rivalry and conversation during the event felt forced.
Consumers are seeking intimacy.
LeBron James understands that more than anybody in the sports world right now. His HBO show, The Shop, shows revealing and authentic conversation in a barbershop with A-list celebrities — Drake, Snoop, OBJ and many more — that touches on topics they’ve never discussed publicly before. Drake airing out his beef with Kanye West and LeBron declaring himself the GOAT became major social talking points.
LeBron’s not granting interviews to help Sports Illustrated sell magazines anymore. He’s talking about stuff on his own media properties which he’s making bucks off of. Leverage has flipped.
We’ll see an event like Tiger v. Phil except with basketball players in the next 3 years.
Would you pay $19.99 to watch LeBron play Kevin Durant 1-on-1 in August? Or Steph Curry play Damian Lilliard? I definitely would.
Other than language in their contract that prevents an athlete from playing their own sport and not giving a cut to the league, there is little barrier for someone like Steph Curry to organizing and cashing in on an event like this.
Soon, we will see more athletes do this. The promotion will be easy. The distribution attainable. Most of the major stars already have sponsors who will want in on the event. Think Chris Paul and James Harden with State Farm. The whole freakin’ basketball hoop will be State Farm branded.
Whether you call it the Hollywood-ization, the boxing-ization or millenial-ization of the world, Tiger v. Phil is the start of a major new trend.