Golf’s Ryder Cup, which takes place on 19-21 September, is one of the great events on the sporting calendar and has been attracting extensive preview media coverage in several markets (for example in the NY Times and Marca) since the teams were announced at the start of September. And yet, curiously, the Ryder Cup is an exception in many ways:
- It’s a team event in this most individual of sports;
- Europe competes as a united team;
- There is no prize money; and
- It takes place every two years, whereas most other golf events are annual.
So why does it work so well? There are plenty of reasons:
- It has a tradition dating back to the 1920s, although it has evolved over the years, and many of the great golfers of the past are remembered for their Ryder Cup exploits.
- The complicated format regularly produces great drama.
- Spectators identify with the teams, even if they don’t know some of the individual players.
- The recently retired golfing statesman as team captain gives an added dimension: they pick wildcards, choose the playing order and roam the course offering moral support.
- Holding the event every two years makes each edition more special.
- It has a good slot in the calendar, separate from other big events and well after the golf majors.
But the key thing is that the players desperately want to be involved. Good performances at the Ryder Cup increase a golfer’s commercial value considerably and the event probably attracts a broader audience than other tournaments.
All in all, rights-holders of other sports events would do well to study the success of the Ryder Cup.
Despite the event’s undoubted strengths, there may be challenges ahead. The European team has won the last three events and is favourite again for 2008. If the USA team, missing the injured Tiger Woods, fails to run the Europeans close, American interest could begin to wane. In July the American player Hunter Mahan criticised the commercial demands made on the team at the Ryder Cup and said that golfers might
start turning down invitations. Once he was selected, however, all of that seems to have been forgotten.
Samuel Ryder would have been proud.