Executives Believe Golf’s ‘First-and-10 Line’ Can Help Build the Sport

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Photo via Toptracer

NBC Sports Group’s use of Toptracer tech could help attract fans to golf and demonstrate the broader application of the tech to lower the barrier of entry to the game.

NBC Sports and Topgolf Entertainment Group, the parent company of Toptracer, announced a partnership this week to include the tracking technology on PGA tour telecasts this season.

“Topgolf and NBC Sports are two companies focused on technical innovation across the golf industry,” said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports Group. “This forward-thinking partnership allows us to combine our strengths to modernize how fans engage with golf.

“We’re thrilled to expand our partnership for high-quality PGA Tour coverage, but we’re equally excited to showcase technology like Toptracer Range for golf courses to help evolve the golf experience for the future and bring new fans to the sport.”

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The Toptracer ball-tracking technology will be on all of NBC Sports PGA Tour golf telecasts, starting with the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which tees off on Jan. 31. The ball tracking will be viewed on either live video or NBC Virtual Follow, which traces the ball’s trajectory over a graphic of the hole.

Rather than just a white ball in the air, the Toptracer tech provides 3D flight data analytics, including ball speed, apex, curve and carry. Topgolf acquired and rebranded Protracer is 2016.

Toptracer President Ben Sharpe said he’s excited the potential the partnership brings to fans watching a golf broadcast and equated it to football’s introduction of the First-and-10 line.

“When it started, it was [Founder Daniel Forsgren] watching and seeing the ball in the air, but didn’t know if it’s fading or drawing,” Sharpe said. “He was trying to find a way to show information for golf fans of all knowledge levels to appreciate.”

Sharpe previously worked at TaylorMade Golf Company, including a stint as CEO, until 2015 and joined Toptracer in 2018, despite not looking to get back into golf. He said he saw the opportunity of the technology to grow the game, which he loves and is now having the “most fun ever” in his career.

The partnership’s announcement also mentioned the potential of future content development initiatives.

What Sharpe is potentially most excited about is the partnership’s ability to help commercialize the Toptracer technology beyond the Topgolf locations — which see 18 million people annually. He said the partnership will accelerate the technology’s implementation at golf courses and driving ranges, opening up access to the game.

NBC Sport’s Golf division includes GolfNow, an online tee time and booking platform, which is now the official sales partner for Toptracer Range, the consumer-facing product for golf facilities.

“We’re in the business of helping our golf course partners leverage these new concepts to attract more golfers to their facilities and build their businesses,” said Will McIntosh, executive vice president of strategy for golf at NBC Sports. “Toptracer Range is a perfect example and we’re looking forward to showcasing this new technology to our partners around the world.”

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The Toptracer Range places a camera on the bays, with in-bay monitors, which provide similar data seen on the broadcasts. The data can then be tracked through different sessions on the company’s mobile app.

The technology at a driving range can open up virtual games, such as longest drive and closest to the pin competitions and virtual golf courses.

“We’re all consuming more media through digital form now and what we can do is digitize the game and bring it to a much wider demographic,” Sharpe said. “In an industry that people say participation is down because it takes too long or is too hard, we want to get people back in.

“We’re creating a leisure activity where family and friends can have an enjoyable experience on a range, when they used to be for middle-aged males.”