Former PGA CEO Explains Why Digital Media Is At The Center Of Golf’s Future

Former PGA of America CEO, Joe Steranka, is celebrating his 39th year in the sport industry, but only looking forward. With career stops any sport enthusiast would envy, from the Cleveland Cavaliers to premier sport management agency, ProServ, and leading the helm of professional golf in America for 25-years, Steranka has amassed a deeper understanding of what moves the sport industry than most. In the next phase of his career, Steranka is not stuck in the past, but looking forward to help sport entities expand their reach with digital media.

Negotiating landmark media rights fee agreements for the Ryder Cup and PGA Championship and playing a critical role in golf’s return to the Olympic Games, Steranka has always sought to push new boundaries using media channels to expand a brand’s presence. With Steranka Sports + Strategy, he is doing the same by helping brands create sharable marketing messages that reach across various digital platforms. This strategy is markedly different than the one Steranka engaged in early in his career as the director of public relations for the Cleveland Cavaliers, when press releases were the main channel for sport enterprises to disseminate information. Seeing the reach of digital and social media, Steranka is assisting clients in the golf industry reposition their communicative marketing strategies by motivating consumers to share about their experiences.

“If you focus on great golf first then other great experiences, consumers are going to tell their like-demographic followers through social media about the opportunity. It’s getting all of these folks comfortable with the idea that content isn’t a news release, but a 24-7 effort to constantly be on the lookout for magical moments that can be shared,” Steranka explained.

Incentivizing key consumers to share about their experiences with the brand is a way for companies to build business, according to Steranka.

“When you go after the right demographic, deliver extraordinary experiences and pay attention to consumers’ posts to encourage them to do more, you turn them into your most loyal customers,” Steranka told RULING SPORTS.

In this new chapter of his career, Steranka remains interested in growing the golf industry and working with golf brands to expand their reach. As CEO of the PGA, Steranka commissioned the Golf 2.0 report, which included directives on how the sport could expand its participation. Steranka has insights into both the issues golf faces to grow as an industry and the solution technology provides for said issues.

“Time, money and water are the three biggest issues golf faces. Time is our society’s most precious commodity and we all have to compete harder for it. Golf is making investments to improve the speed with which people book tee times and play a round as well as create new, fun formats such as Topgolf and Drive Shack. Competition for disposable income is also greater after a post-recession decade with stagnant income growth in the middle class. Millennials are projected to be the first generation in U.S. history to make less than their parents; plus they are saddled with an average of $30,000 in college tuition debt. Golf is responding with value priced opportunities to play, which can sustain this ‘on-ramp’ of new golfers. Finally, competition for water as a natural resource will increase for all businesses in the decades to come. We’ve already seen how water restrictions in California in 2015 affected golf. The investments in drought resistant turfgrass research and efficient water management by the USGA and others is vital in managing this for the industry,” Steranka explained.

For Steranka, a strong digital strategy presents one solution for golf to address some of the issues it faces.

“Creating a digital community allows everyone who retails golf products or services—tee times, lessons, clubs, televised events—to tailor offerings to specific customer segments. Private and public players, Boomers and Millennials, men and women, high handicappers and single digit players. They may all be golfers, but each has different internal and external motivations for playing the game. This places a premium on data management and analysis to understand each segment. It also requires a big commitment to developing and curating content for these different target audiences,” he said.

To secure the golf industry’s future with Millennials and younger generations, Steranka notes that the industry must use digital platforms to encourage this group of consumers to become ambassadors for the sport.

GolfMatchPlay is sort of a Match.com for golf. Nextgengolf has built a community for college students and new graduates looking to play and network. Topgolf TV, Skratch TV and CLICKON’s Golf channel are three of the better over the top channels aimed at this audience. I believe the best strategy engages Millennials digitally, but also guides them to a golf experience, be it traditional or new formats. Planning a few ‘magic moments’ during these golf experiences results in more social media posts highlighting the fun and natural beauty of the game. Successfully executed, young golfers can be turned into brand ambassadors,” Steranka noted.

As it relates to digital media, Steranka has a unique prediction related to the golf industry.

“Virtually all of us have experienced the up-selling algorithm of Amazon when we make an online purchase. Airlines and hotels up-sell us extra legroom and in-room amenities. This lets customers know the brand is paying attention to them as individuals and helps build loyalty. You will see more of this in golf in the years to come,” he said.

From highlighting the feats of golf’s athletes to showcasing the sport’s latest return to the Olympic Games and motivating Millennials to play to expanding sales, one thing is certain: digital media is at the core of golf’s future.

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