Q&A: Bryan Zuriff on The Match III and What Lies Ahead

    • After The Match II averaged 5.67 million viewers and raised $20 million in COVID-19 relief, The Match III is looking to better its predecessor on Black Friday.
    • FOS spoke with co-creator Bryan Zuriff about preparing for The Match III and its future beyond 2020.

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Bryan Zuriff has had his fair share of events to prepare for in 2020. Just six months ago, the longtime Hollywood producer was preparing for the much-anticipated sequel to The Match. Featuring Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, The Match II in May was both a ratings and philanthropic success. It averaged 5.67 million viewers, drew a 3.4 household rating and raised $20 million for COVID-19 relief. 

Heading into the holidays, Zuriff, one of The Match’s co-creators, is gearing up for the event’s third edition on Black Friday. Instead of touting Woods and Brady, the third iteration of “The Match: Champions for Change” will feature Mickelson and Manning, as well as newcomers Charles Barkey and Steph Curry. It will also go towards raising money for historically black colleges and universities.

Front Office Sports spoke with Zuriff about the quick turnaround between The Match II and III, what fans can expect and what the series’ future entails.

Front Office Sports: Only six months ago, you were gearing up for The Match II. Now that The Match III is right around the corner, what logistical challenges did that bring from you and your team?

Bryan Zuriff: We actually learned so much from the first match that really helped us [for The Match III]. First of all, doing it without fans enables the guys to really have a forum to speak and feel like they can say anything on the golf course. It was raining at the last one, and right now the weather in Arizona [at Stone Canyon Golf Club, the site of The Match III] is zero percent chance of rain. Knock on wood, we should have perfect weather, perfect sound and won’t have any issues with the weather. 

The first one was really exciting. The last one was really exciting because we were doing something in the middle of the pandemic. Sports hadn’t really come back at all yet, and we were pretty much the opening of that [sports return]. That was my concept of [WarnerMedia chairman] Jeff [Zucker] and [Turner Sports President] Lenny [Daniels] was, ‘Hey, this is amazing, because we’re not a league. We only have four guys, we’re doing this for charity. We need to do this for the country, so that was a really exciting moment.’

We realized we learned a lot from that. One of the things being — not having a caddy enabled Tiger to line up Peyton’s putt or Phil lining up Tom’s putt and then to really talk between each other. I think that’s going to lend itself between Barkley and Phil really well.

That kind of engagement between celebrities, in a real way, in a competition, is something you don’t get to see, and these guys all want to win.

Having COVID still out there, it makes it challenging from a production standpoint, but we’ve learned how to test people and how to control situations and not having fans does make it easier. 

The viewing public isn’t really missing something that you would when you’re watching basketball or baseball. You see the cardboard boxes and things like that to make that pleasurable to your eye. The way we do golf with the cameras and the carts and the intimacy, and now by bringing Gary McCord in there, we’re going to add a lot of humor. 

The country — at the end of a long, tough year — is really going to appreciate the fact that we’re going to have a lot of fun with this. 

FOS: For the first two matches, there was more time in between them in terms of preparation than between two and three. Why right now to host The Match III after you hosted The Match II six months ago?

BZ: Because the day after Thanksgiving has always been the target date. Having that day, which goes back to the Skins Game, which ran for 20 years. The Skins Game was genius, and basically having that day empty enables us to get big-name athletes to do it. We know what we’re doing with the same crew, same director. We’re able to do it rather seamlessly, and [Black Friday] is a day that we hope to really make as a staple for this event going forward, like the Skins Game was for many years. 

FOS: Do you think that having to in such a short amount of time — in addition to Tiger not being in it — will deter people from watching?

BZ: Hopefully not (laughs). The good news is — without Tiger, you know, obviously it’s going to be different. He doesn’t really speak on the golf course. The people are interested in watching people be entertained, and I think we’re going to be able to fulfill that moment in time. 

Listen, I can’t predict what people are going to do, but I certainly think we’re going to do well. I know from a brand standpoint, we’ve done incredibly well, and so the brands believe in it. I think if you don’t have anything else on that day, we’re going to give people a real slice of entertainment. Tiger — sure, he has the biggest name in golf, but he doesn’t have the best personality.

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FOS: You mentioned the brand interest. From an advertising perspective, what has that interest looked like for The Match III?

BZ: Ford is launching their new Mustang electric car, so this is a real opportunity to have four big, defining guys driving that car and showing that off for them. 

For Steph Curry, he backs Oxigen, which is his water company. In the NBA, he can’t go out there … and sit there with Oxigen. But here, he’s behind this young company that’s doing phenomenal work, helping him recover and he can push that out. We give him an opportunity to really engage with his partner in a big way. 

Now he has a partnership with Under Armour, but he’s really pushing his golf stuff out. He’s got a shoe coming out, so what a way to do that for somebody like him. [The Match III] really gives an opportunity for big-name athletes … going forward to really strut their stuff.

Golf is the one sport that lends itself to talking while you’re playing. What other sport can you do that in? You can’t do that, so you really get to engage with people in a way and then then they can go take their shot. 

FOS: What about The Match III should excite viewers the most? What are fan-experience opportunities that you guys have lined up for it?

BZ: We’ve never seen something like this. Can Phil Mickelson carry Charles Barkley on his back to victory against Steph Curry, who’s really a professional golfer — and his partner Peyton is phenomenal. Is that matchup going to be close? I think it’s going to be closer than people think. 

Golf is the one sport that you can actually combine amateurs with with professionals and make for exciting matches. You can’t do that in any other sport.

There’s going to be incredible [fan-experience initiatives]. There’s going to be a huge hole-in-one opportunity. If Charles hits the 70 yard shot, it’s going to be good and the audience should be pretty engaged with it. 

We’re going to have a lot of fun, little stunts on the golf course all throughout the day and I think the fans are gonna love them.

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FOS: Almost six million average viewers and over $20 million was raised in COVID-19 relief at The Match II. What do you envision success looking like for this match?

BZ: We’re bringing awareness for the HBCUs. We’re raising at least $1.5 to $2 million just for the HBCUs alone. If we can affect even one [student] … I know this sounds ridiculous, but education is so important. 

Golf is a sport that you get to meet people. A lot of kids go to schools to become basketball players or football players. Not many kids go to school to become golfers, especially at the schools that we’re supporting. But golf is a skillset that lends itself into business. If we introduced just one child to golf and how that could possibly change their life — and I know we’ll do more than one — that’s a phenomenal achievement. 

Forget ad dollars, forget everything else. That’s making change in the world that you can’t do, so that’s using the media for a really positive effect. Just like we raised $20 million [for COVID-19 relief], now we do this for education and for kids, and that’s a way you really help people more so than anything. 

It’s been a very tough year, so not only are we raising awareness for HBCUs, we also have a Feeding America campaign for this. We’re going to be helping a lot of underprivileged people get meals on their table during the holiday season.

Merging charity with entertainment has never been done in a way [that’s fun]. They’ve always had telethons. Those are boring. [The Match III] does it in a way that’s fun and engaging … where you get the message, but it’s not hit on your head.

FOS: What does the future of The Match look like to you?

BZ: I think it’s a semi-annual event based on seasons. We can get a defined athlete to do it during the summer in an evening — possibly lit up — or later in the day because you have more time in the summer.

Tom [Brady] wants to come back. He had such a good time. Maybe Pat Mahomes, who has expressed interest, comes on. We look at the landscape, see who the athletes are that love golf and see who the athletes are that are doing good in their world. We cast them around Phil, Tiger — whomever we want — in ways that are compelling.