Almost immediately following the November 2018 head-to-head match play golf challenge between Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods for $9 million, the question arose – how could that event be even bigger?
Eighteen months later that has come to life, as Mickelson and Woods will meet in a rematch alongside Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in a charity event expected to raise more than $10 million for COVID-19 relief efforts.
Originally, the hope was to hold the event in the second quarter of 2020 with these four players, according to Kevin Hopkins, the tournament director of The Match: Champions for Charity. Hopkins leads the women’s golf division at Excel Sports Management, with the agency being a co-organizer of the event alongside Lagardère – the agencies that represent Woods and Mickelson, respectively.
“We felt the event was a success, and Turner certainly did too. We both wanted to expand it, so we’ve been in a discussion on what does that look like?,” said Hopkins, who joined Excel in 2018. “We decided to add two more golfers, and to cross over to other sports, which is what we ultimately landed on.”
But working through the schedules of the four athletes presented challenges. With the President’s Cup and Woods’ tournament The Hero World Challenge being held in December as well as the PGA Tour schedule, carving out a window for the two golfers became tough. With Brady and his schedule as an active NFL player alongside Manning’s commitments, that became quadruply so.
“The original plan was to be a kick-off to a PGA Tour event in June,” Hopkins said. “But that had to be pivoted pretty quickly when the coronavirus [pandemic] hit.”
The stakeholders, including broadcast partner Turner, quickly came together to figure out what was the next steps. While the 2018 event was a relative commercial success, attracting big sponsors like Capital One and Audi, a technical difficulty halted plans to sell it as a pay-per-view event, instead being offered for free.
“When we came together as a group, we decided ‘hey, let’s not just do this for entertainment purposes – let’s do it for a good cause,’” Hopkins said. “Really all of that credit should go to the players, who came together and said let’s raise some money and let’s provide some joy into people’s lives.”
That quickly shifted the runway for Hopkins and his team, who started to pivot the event in March.
“We didn’t want to do anything that was tone deaf, and we didn’t want to do anything we wouldn’t have done last time [in 2018],” he said. “Once we felt we could do it in a safe manner, we knew the message we were going to be able to send was the right one.”
That meant shifting focus away from things like hospitality and VIP packages to safety and precautions on-site at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Florida.
That also meant moving away again from a pay-per-view model to one that will make the broadcast free across TNT, TBS, truTV, and HLN.
“At the same time were were talking about shifting the event and the vision for it, the sales side shifted as well because we knew there needed to be a charitable element to this,” Hopkins said. “Obviously it costs a lot of money for Turner to put this on and the normal ad spends you might get have changed, but a lot of partners saw the opportunity to do something that wasn’t just to buy another commercial or put their logo on a sign, but to do some good with as well.”
Turner completely sold out of sponsorships for the event, attracting partners like title sponsor Capital One, Michelob Ultra, and Progressive. Other brands, such as Cisco and Draftkings, will be woven into the broadcast and the streaming of the event.
But ultimately the charitable fundraising part of the event has become the most crucial, as Hopkins said the organizers have kept a close eye on other recent fundraising entertainment events in recent weeks to see what has been working well, including the recent TaylorMade Driving Relief charity event held on May 17.
“The beauty of having a made-for-TV exhibition is that it allows you to have a little more fun with the competition and the broadcast,” Hopkins said. “We’ll have some fun elements and competitions within the competition between the players and people calling in and getting involved on social media that I think will not only make it enjoyable but help raise more money.”
The event has a benchmark of raising $10 million, but Hopkins said the hope is to “raise a lot more than that.”
Hopkins said he also hopes this event “can be a starting point and a blueprint” for the PGA and LPGA Tours to resume play and bring more competitive golf back.
But first, he’s expecting a big audience to tune in not only for one of the first live sporting events to return, but for a star-studded event for a good cause.
“When you have the names that we have, we always knew the golf audience would want to see what Tiger and Phil would be doing, and then you add Tom and Peyton in and their audience they bring,” he said. “On the competitive side, I think it’s a must-watch. I think we have something for all sports fans.”