Guest blog – McDougall: "Long drive is about the characters."

Big Kountry Baldwin

RT’s note: Regular guest blogger Colin McDougall is an educator in the golf industry who formerly ran equipment maker Accuform (and still plays Accuform blades!). After completing his MBA at Ivey, McDougall attempted to create a long drive concept called Thunderball, a concept he was very passionate about.

Raw athletic talent really is exciting to watch almost anytime, anywhere, isn’t it?  To see the power, the desire, the will to perform at a high level is a sight to behold and surely a key reason why sports are such an integral element of our modern society.  It’s also not unusual for athletes to be capable of competing at a high level in multiple sports.  Dave Winfield, for example, was famously drafted by all three major pro sports (basketball, football and his chosen sport, baseball) because he was simply that good an athlete.

So, to hold a Mississippi high school state record in basketball, a record likely never to be beaten in our lifetime, a record that those who witnessed in person will glowingly retell their firsthand account to friends and family for years to come is surely an incredible athletic accomplishment in and of itself right?  For my purpose, however, this incredible feat of athleticism serves as a critical, foundational element of what long-drive should be focused on in order to see its enormous growth potential realized.

Brooks ‘Big Kountry’ Baldwin is a top-tier professional long-driver.  At 6’3” tall, Big Kountry is 245 pounds of pure, southern-fried country power.  To watch the native of Magee, Mississippi crush golf balls almost into the stratosphere is to watch a pure, naturally gifted athlete perform at the highest possible level in their sport.  Brooks also happens to be extremely talented in several other sports, including basketball.  Among his list of basketball related accomplishments, Big Kountry happens to be the Mississippi high school basketball state record holder for…….. the fastest foul-out in a regular season game.

Just how fast can one get called for five distinct, deserving and, perhaps, even diabolical fouls in a single game? Good question.   In the case of Big Kountry, it took a mere 28 seconds to reach the entire game’s allotment – 28 bloody seconds!

Now, before you shrug off the importance of this local legendary feat as simply a joke, take a moment to think of the coaches, the referees, the teammates and the fans watching all of this as it was unfolding, I mean it must’ve taken some serious stones to actually set such a record, don’t you think?

My point for telling you a basketball story in what is supposed to be a blog about the potential of long-drive is that I believe that  the sport needs to focus first and foremost on connecting viewers to the character of its competitors as a means of driving interest in the results.

The big challenge for long-drive is that in order to achieve the volume of exposure needed to make a dent in the sports media marketplace, you need substantial amounts of money combined with an unwavering belief in its long-term upside potential.Whether it’s Baden Wai Wai, a Maori Indian (think former U.S. Open winner Michael Campbell) from the backwoods of New Zealand who works each day  in a meat packing plant and happened upon his other-worldly talent for driving a golf ball by attending a local Re/Max qualifier – not as a competitor, but to watch his friend compete (once there, he thought he’d give it a go and ended up winning by an astonishing 50 metres!) or Vinny ‘The Pasta Man’ Ciurluini, a former B movie actor now selling his own line of men’s jewelry on the shopping channel, long-drive is chock full of A+ quality characters that any sports fan, not just golfers, would find compelling viewing.

Back in 2009, I was fortunate to sit down for a brief meeting with Dana White, UFC President and architect of one of the greatest sports business phenomenon’s in modern history.  Among the insights he shared with me during our discussion was that the UFC had invested nearly $40 million in the company (Zuffa llc, owner of the UFC brand) before their financial performance actually turned the corner toward profitability.

In fact, at one point during their struggles, the Fertitta brothers, Dana’s deep-pocketed investor/partners, asked him to look around for a potential buyer having grown tired of continually funding the ongoing operations with no visible light at the end of the tunnel.  Already invested to the tune of over $25 million by that point, the best offer Dana could find was only a modest $4 million.  Ultimately, the Fertitta’s decided to continue pouring money into the business hoping that things would eventually turn around, and the rest, as they say, is sports business history.

According to Dana, the key to UFC’s financial success was their decision to invest in a weekly reality tv series called  ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, a show that would air on a relatively new channel created ‘specifically for men’ called Spike TV.

Why was the show such a key element of the success of the UFC?  The answer lies in how the show connected viewers to the character of the fighters as a means of driving interest in the outcomes of each fight.  Up to that point, no one knew who to root for (or against) in a given match up, or more importantly, why they should root for them in the first place.  The Ultimate Fighter became the platform through which viewers would develop an emotional attachment to a given fighter resulting in an amplification of their interest in seeing what outcome awaited them each time they stepped inside the octagon.  Quite simply, people began to care about who won or lost – because the structure of the show made them care.

Interestingly, Dana told me that his deal with Spike TV was such that there was actually no guarantee on Spike’s part to air the full season’s worth of episodes even though they had all been shot, edited and ready for broadcast at a cost of nearly $10 million – talk about commitment!

Having met many of the top-tier competitors in long-drive, I can state with great confidence that the character level from a fan connectivity standpoint is unrivalled in professional sports.  In many ways it’s reminiscent of the way things used to be on the PGA Tour early on – where financial constraints led guys to travel together, live together, help each other and occasionally defend each other while pursuing their chosen sport with passion and an authentic love of the game.

Using a ‘character first’ approach I have no doubts that a full season television series focused on the colourful players in long-drive would cause viewers to develop strong interest in finding out who won or lost – and no doubt enjoy coming to know more about the guy who holds the record for the fastest foul-out in the history of Mississippi high school basketball…..

Next time: Why some brands should take a closer look at Long-Drive for achieving their marketing goals






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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently a columnist with and Ontario Golf, and a contributing writer to ScoreGolf, his blog, Going for the Green, was launched in 2004.

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