The Open Championship, Golf’s flagship event in Europe has transformed itself over the last few years as it tries interacting and attracting millennials and gen-z.
I visited The Open in 2011 at Royal St George’s Golf Club in Sandwich. I travelled down on the Orient Express and had VIP access to the course: it had all the making for a memorable experience. However the most memorable part was handing over my mobile phone before I entered and picking it up before I left.
So out of touch was the R&A (the administrators for the British Open) that the idea that people would take and share pictures using modern technology led to an almost police state at the entrance.
By 2012 the iPhone had been around for five years. Most mobile phones were being used to share experiences instantly using social media, as well as being used to store images that would otherwise be forgotten. But not at an R&A event. They just couldn’t get the idea that people’s engagement with events had altered forever.
How times have changed at The Open
The Open Championship is now a best practice example of how events can become more experiential and engage millennials and gen-z.
1. Consider the total cost of attending the event
The younger generation are not only more “cost conscious” but they are relatively poorer by 20% compared to to baby boomers, so event organisers have to consider the entire cost of attending an event. The R&A introduced a campsite in 2016 to combat the rising price of more traditional hotel accommodation. This year the campsite is free for under 25s and it is a wonderful way to encourage a young audience to join the event.
2. Embrace technology
Every major golf tournament has leader boards set up across the course. Changing those scores was, until recently, a manual process at The Open. So that meant volunteers manually updating the scores of over 100 golfers! Just imagine the high chance of mistakes as well as the delay. I was baffled back in 2011. But things have finally changed.
Scoreboards are digital. On the practice range the fans can watch huge screens showing the distance, ball speed and ball spin of all the players shots as they practice. Mobiles (as long as they are on silent of course) are welcomed.
3. There has to be more to every event than just the event – there has to be an experiential element
Back in 2011 you had the option to watch the golf, shop, eat or drink. Not so now. The number of alternative ways to spend your time during the four day championship is as long as a Tiger Woods drive! Soft play areas within the kids zone (where you can chip velcro balls onto a giant dartboard) autograph areas, tips from the pros in the SwingZone, free golf lessons, live music and more. This event is now a full time experience.
4. A connected event
One of the biggest IT infrastructure challenges in Europe takes place every year at The Open. Rather than trying to avoid these challenges the R&A decided to embrace them and ensure that all the stakeholders are connected. Wifi is now a priority. The Open has a mobile app and the website is updated by the minute throughout the tournament. All this to ensure that a digital connection is as important as a physical connection.
Millennials and Gen-Z are digital natives. This is crucial to encouraging engagement.
5. Attracting millennials and gen-z has to be an organisational goal
You can’t expect to attract younger attendees unless your organisation makes a whole hearted commitment to do so. Throwing on a few events that tick a few boxes won’t work. Your organisation has to re-evaluate how it engages with a younger generation and concentrate on the customer journey.
Golf faces a challenging time. It won’t be enough to attract millennials and Gen-Z to their events, they have to encourage younger players to embrace the game of golf. The R&A are aware of the challenges and are doing much to attract a young audience.
Any organisation that wants to attract millennials and gen-z to their events should watch more golf.