The coronavirus pandemic forced Topgolf to shutter all brick-and-mortar locations around the world in March.
The decision was an obvious one, YuChiang Cheng, Topgolf Media’s president, said. Like most businesses, Topgolf is now waiting for the green light from local governments to reopen when the time is right.
“We really wanted to do our part,” Cheng said. “I think what’s unique about Topgolf is that it’s a partial outdoor activity, and we do allow for a lot of space in our different venues. And so, we feel that we have an offering that can be done safely.”
TopGolf may not know the long-term impact of its live venue business going dark, but its advertisers have remained supportive throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the company said. Most are also locked into long-term agreements with the sports entertainment brand.
Cheng points to the number of digital assets available to partners like Coca-Cola and MasterCard to leverage. This includes Topgolf’s original programming, social media presence, and the World Golf Tour brand.
“I think there is a good understanding that this will pass, though painful,” he said. “So we’re trying to help all of them, you know, find a way to still talk to consumers in this environment.”
Topgolf is primarily banking on its WGT brand to keep its connection going with golf fans.
The free-to-play golf simulation game began as a web-only application one decade ago and has expanded to Android, iPhone, and Amazon devices. In-game microtransactions on apparel and equipment are also available for purchase.
“What’s interesting is we have a whole bunch of original shows like Chef Showdown and Topgolf Tour, but WGT is our main connector right now,” Cheng said. “There are hundreds of thousands of players playing each day.”
WGT, which allows for multiplayer rounds and social communication between players, has witnessed 30% growth in fan engagement week-over-week, Cheng said. This comes as Topgolf accelerates in-game modifications to WGT, including enhanced storytelling capabilities on Twitch by making more live round data available to streamers.
Upcoming changes are immediately expected to benefit Topgolf’s WGT Live Series, an esports initiative produced in partnership with Super League Gaming, where WGT rounds are broadcast online on Twitch and YouTube. The series’ next event is scheduled for March 28.
Topgolf also launched a WGT esports league with the European Tour in December 2019 in partnership with DreamHack. That series will play its championship event in November for a total prize pool of $50,000.
“We don’t need to bring you the latest news. We also don’t know the latest medical stuff,” Cheng said. “It’s about not only connecting but entertaining consumers. At the end of the day, we are an entertainment company making games.”
Topgolf’s staff has taken to Twitch to interact with fans as well. The company’s Director of Business Development Jeehae Lee – also a former LPGA Tour player – live-streamed a WGT round between herself and 2015 Miss America winner Kira Dixon on March 21.
“I got her trained on the WGT platform, and like all of my friends she was flabbergasted at how good the technology was, and how beautiful the courses were,” Lee said.
Lee additionally received a crash course on Twitch streaming and became enamored with the frequent two-way communication with fans.
“It [the stream] doesn’t have to be perfect,” she said. “We really are just talking to a group of people, not as an audience, but as your community.”