European Tour looks to Innovation Hub to enhance coverage
By Euan Cunningham
Golf’s European Tour aims to “go from a small town to a smart city”, in using innovative start-up video and streaming technology to unlock the sport for a wider audience than ever before, a senior executive has explained.
The Tour, along with one its sponsors Tata Communications, the Indian telecoms company, this week revealed the finalists of the European Tour Innovation Hub, a competition launched in September and aimed at finding ideas that can be developed commercially with the support of Tata and the Tour’s business development team.
All three finalists operate in the audio-visual technology sector, and use their technology to add interactivity or additional content to a basic video stream.
Speaking to media at an event in London this week, Michael Cole, the Tour’s chief technology officer, said: “We don’t see ourselves as a sports company, but as an entertainment company… Therefore we have to adjust to our audience’s preference. Consumers’ content-viewing methods are changing rapidly, so we have to reflect that.
“The ultimate vision here is to go from a small town to a smart city in terms of the environment and the technology we use – including in showing off our product – around a golf course.”
Cole said that the Tour would need to use this sort of innovation to add to its own coverage, or else fail to attract potential future audiences.
He continued: “We won’t stay complacent or stand still – we’re looking for ideas here that can drive fan loyalty and turn one-time fans into diehards.
“We think golf is the most complex and technologically challenging sport worldwide, so really many of the ideas created here will be about demystifying the sport for the casual viewer.
“The more we can connect and empower fans across all 18 holes by using these new technologies, the more we enhance their experience. Fans should feel like they’re connected to the golf and the content we’re showing.”
Mehul Kapadia, Tata’s chief marketing officer, told Sportcal: “For us, the more innovation comes into golf, the more our products are used… In a sense, that’s what we get out of this.
“We want to work to the same vision that the European Tour has, and so therefore we see quite a strong future for our products and services.”
The European Tour is no stranger to innovative content solutions, having signed a multi-national rights deal with GolfTV, Discovery's live and on-demand streaming service, a year ago. GolfTV covered more than 40 tournaments from the European Tour in 2019.
The body also signed a deal with IMG Arena, the sports betting business of the IMG agency, in February, which included IMG buying specific streaming rights and distributing these streams to data rights clients in selected territories.
The partnership between the European Tour and Tata is a multi-year deal, and Kapadia suggested that where possible, his organisation prefers a long-term approach to such deals, “as long as it’s driving value both ways.”
Tata is expanding its sporting portfolio, having added the Tour to a stable of clients that already includes cricket’s Indian Premier League and motorsport’s Formula 1, and Kapadia suggested the organisation had no preference as to which sports it targets next.
He said: “We’re looking for sports that have the same approach to digital transformation as we do – practically every sport is moving this way.
“In that sense, the world is our playing field.”
The three shortlisted finalists for the Innovation Hub are: Sparx Technology, a Canadian fan engagement and interaction app that already works alongside several broadcasters in the US; Alugha, a translation technology from Germany that can simultaneously translate content into multiple languages; and Eyecandylab, a firm which can place interactive content like statistics and 3D visualisations on top of a live video stream.
The winning start-up will be subject to a proof-of-concept test at one of the major European Tour events in 2020.