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Why the Ryder Cup is stuck in the digital rough

The Ryder Cup is, for some, the only exposure they will get to golf. The nail-biting finale in 2012 brought even the most staunch of golf anti-fans to the edge of their bar stool as the European team pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks, not just in golfing history but in all sporting history. The excitement of the moment captured the imagination of sporting fans all over the globe, it was the equivalent of Brazil’s trouncing by Germany in the football World Cup or Ben Ainsley’s masterminded comeback in the Americas cup in sailing. And for a moment we all forgot that we find golf a little bit boring most of the time.

One of the reasons that this particular competition is such a draw is that it isn’t just any competition, it is Europe against the USA. Let’s face it, any competition that presents the chance to get one over the USA generally attracts the eyes of Brits, who would otherwise scorn golf as old fashioned and only for those who wear checked flannel trousers.

Golf generally suffers from a bad image amongst the uninitiated. Some think it is a sport reserved solely for executives swanning around in a Jaguar and Lexus, whilst others assume that golf courses are solely populated by those drawing their pensions. It isn’t exactly the coolest of sports, all things considered.

So it is perplexing that the organisers of this year’s competition - to be held in Scotland, the home of golf - have chosen to enforce a blanket ban on social media activity during the competition. And this covers both spectators and the players! The rules state:

“Images taken with a camera, mobile phone or other electronic device cannot be used for any purpose other than for private and domestic purposes. You must not sell, license, publish (including, without limitation, via Twitter or Facebook or any other social media site) or otherwise commercially exploit photographs.”

The reasoning that the organisers have given for this is:

“The Ryder Cup is one of the world’s most recognized sporting events and as such we need to ensure that the brand, encompassing fair play, teamwork and camaraderie is protected at all times which means ensuring that images of the event are not used for monetary gain in a manner which may go against those principles.”

Peeling back the layers, what this actually means is that the organisers want to reserve any income on media rights for themselves. So bearing in mind the image the sport currently has, and the fact that the Ryder Cup is golf's biggest money spinner, this seems a little short sighted.

As we have previously covered, this year’s World Cup in Brazil set new levels of social media interactivity. The world not only shared their experiences but also their opinions. The whole world was seemingly under World Cup social fever and as a result the sport has no doubt gained popularity. But bigger even than this was the effect on ad revenues. The social media effect was massive, increasing fans engagement with brands, and indeed brands engagement with the fans as well.

Other events have also shown that engagement via social media significantly increases the amount of fans who get involved with the event, either through social media or by watching on television or the internet. The Sotchi Winter Olympics, and the London Olympics before them, both saw massive social media activity and people who couldn’t go therefore felt more involved through the social engagements with their friends. The Superbowl in America has been showing how social media can play a big part in the excitement of an event for years.

So you would think that if the Ryder Cup, as they claim, is one of the most recognized sporting events in the world then they would want to follow suit and engage as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. What other events have realised is that this sort of user generated content is a marketing opportunity. Being able to guarantee audience participation across channels makes the event much more sellable to advertisers and that increases revenue. The wider coverage will also excite an otherwise disaffected (golf wise) next generation into being more interested in the sport and perhaps even move some way towards evolving the currently stuffy image the sport suffers from.

The world is now a cross channel experience, where people care a lot more about what their friends and family post on social media than they do about what a brand has crafted on the television. More so though, there is an expectation that people can get involved cross channel, rather than being limited to one medium. Giving people access to your event from as many different channels as possible can only be a good thing, and when it comes to protecting the revenue from sellable images, how many media outlets are going to buy an image taken from the middle of the crowd, with a smartphone, when they can have a well framed, high quality photo from their sports photographer anyway?

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