Golf is one of the unique sports that fans can take as seriously as the athletes they watch on TV, which has led to a new partnership between NBC Sports and superstar Rory McIlroy.
The two parties announced GolfPass last week, a direct-to-consumer membership program with five different aspects: play, learn, watch, travel and shop. GolfPass is a digital membership platform connecting a member to benefits around the lifestyle of golf.
“We’re really looking at this as building a media business based around the sport of golf that’s forward thinking and will be around for the next 25 years,” said Mike McCarley, president of golf at NBC Sports.
The lifestyle part of golf is an aspect not seen in other sports, where a day can include watching professionals playing but can also include consuming educational content and purchasing the latest equipment.
“Golf is uniquely placed, and it’s a unique game where people that watch golf on TV are the ones that play the game as well, and I think you can’t say that for a lot of sports,” McIlroy said. “I think that’s why GolfPass is so good; you make the game more accessible for people, just make it easier to play.”
GolfPass is $9.99 a month or $99 annually for the subscription product available online and on connected TV and iOS and Android apps. There’s also a GolfPass+ subscription that features several more benefits beyond the base subscription.
Among its pillars, GolfPass includes GolfNow, which collects 7,000 courses in 26 countries and offers tee times, which McCarley equated to the restaurant-reservation platform Open Table. Members also receive a free round of golf monthly at one of those courses.
The program also includes 4,000 video lessons and tips. GolfPass also includes a pro shop with partners, like TaylorMade. With an annual pass to GolfPass, users get a free dozen TaylorMade balls and discounts on the brand’s products.
Travel is also an aspect included in GolfPass, a ratings and review service for courses. And there’s also a watch aspect, which includes original content, including content featuring McIlroy and archival content from the Golf Channel.
The entirety of GolfPass is a 21st-century extension of the Golf Channel, McIlroy said.
The Golf Channel was founded nearly 25 years ago by Arnold Palmer and is now a 24/7 network reaching 500 million viewers in 70 countries in nine languages. Along with 23 weekends of golf annually, McCarley said the brand has been built as a lifestyle network to help connect golfers with the game.
McIlroy said his connection to his device is a big reason he’s bought into the GolfPass concept.
“I spend a lot of time, whether it be on my phone or iPad, watching different content, whether that’s golf or other sports or movies or whatever it is,” he said. “I think that is the way of the world nowadays. People pay for things on their phone. Everything is on this little handheld device that we keep on us, and I think that’s why GolfPass is so good because basically, everything you need to be a golfer and to have for a membership is there when you need it.”
While GolfPass is an entry into a new model of media extension into fans’ hands, having all the different aspects within a single membership program isn’t easily translated to other sports media opportunities, McCarley said.
“A good example is, you watch a baseball game on ESPN or Major League Baseball Network; the next night you’re not watching a show that’s trying to teach you how to hit a 95-mph fastball,” he said. “But if you watch golf, you can also watch a show that’s going to help you try to fix your slice or get 10 more yards out of your drive.
“Some people like to travel and plan trips with their friends. Some people just like to get out and play as much as they can. A lot of people like to go buy the latest equipment, and we’ve built a product that scratches that itch for every person who has a real passion for the game of golf.”