Still feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the PGA Tour has restructured its online presence to adjust to a world without professional golf.
“We had 144 athletes playing across 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM on a first-round type of thing,” Laura Neal, the Tour’s senior vice president of communications and media, said. “It’s just a constant turn – and you go from that to zero.”
The lost events have already put a strain on the Tour’s digital and social content output during what usually is a busy stretch of the season.
For example, the week of the 2019 Valspar Championship, the PGA Tour averaged more than 50 posts per day on its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter channels. Last week, when the tournament was originally scheduled to be held, it averaged eight to 10 posts per day – a significant decline from 2019, and a near 90% drop in output from Tiger Woods’ appearance at the 2018 edition.
Engagement is also likely to plateau due to the lack of tournament play. Last year saw the PGA Tour reach 118.5 million engagements on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, a 7% increase from 2018. It also grew its following across those channels to 6.78 million, a 6% rise during that same stretch.
To address the dearth of on-course content, the Tour has adopted a four-phase digital and social media strategy.
“We don’t want to just put content out for content’s sake. We want to be thoughtful and delicately serve our fans during this time,” she said.
The first step focused on publishing news about immediate tour events. It included posts such as the cancellation of all events through the Valero Texas Open and the immediate suspension of the tour season.
Ten tournaments – including the Valspar Championship, WGC Dell-Technologies Match Play, the Masters Tournament, and PGA Championship – have either been canceled or postponed, with the next scheduled event being the Charles Schwab Challenge on May 24.
Phase two plays off of a childhood memory that is helping Neal deal with these challenging times.
“To quote one of my favorite people, it was Mr. Rogers who said, ‘When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’,” Neal said. “That would always make me feel better,” she added.
Since canceling The Players Championship, the Tour has posted videos of Paul Casey – the defending two-time Valspar Championship winner – emphasizing social distancing in his testimonial. It has also used Twitter to reshare the actions of Billy Horschel, Brooks Koepka, and Tiger Woods as they strive to help those in need.
There will be a stretch between phases two and three of the PGA Tour’s renewed social media accounts, Neal said. She wants phase three to be known as the “distraction phase” and highlight content around the tour players and how they are staying occupied during this golf-less stretch of 2020.
The Tour has slowly integrated this type of material into its social media platforms. On March 22, it published a series of Instagram posts featuring golfers like Justin Rose, Chesson Hadley, and Ian Poulter as they give a brief look into their daily lives off-the-course.
As time progresses, Neal will look into more irreverent player posts centered around their homes. She is interested to see how they will redesign their house for practice purposes and if they will be working on trick shots, creating nine-hole putting courses, and other ways of remaining connected with the sport.
Sooner rather than later, Neal hopes to see the fourth and final phase come to fruition: having the PGA Tour return to normal. When that happens, it can begin planning posts around the players and their daily schedules like how they prepare for tournaments, what their workouts look like, and what goes into a practice routine.
“Everything’s going to look completely different than it would have otherwise,” Neal said. “That’s how we’re approaching it, with the key thing being that we’re living our way into the answer each day.”
Despite having a full-fledged online plan during this hiatus, Neal mentions that there are still several ideas that the Tour is brainstorming for social media. There have been talks of getting a group of players from the same area who could partake in a competition that is streamed on PGA Tour Live.
The Tour is also actively reaching out directly to its players about various topics, ranging from their community engagement to what they are doing at home. Player examples like these could be featured heavily on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, and the Tour will provide direct assistance on producing platform-to-platform content, Neal said.
Even in this unusual period, Neal has begun to see the unexpected positives that have arisen from it.
“If there’s a silver lining, we may come out of this on the other side having some stronger bonds with our players in ways that we can help them create content and connect to their fans even more than they have in the past,” Neal said.