Why The Tech Demands Of Golf’s European Tour Are ‘Unique’ In Sport

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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INTERVIEW: European Tour CTO Michael Cole explains why running 47 golf tournaments in 50 weeks of the year is a unique proposition

Michael Cole has only been the European Tour’s CTO for 11 weeks but he is adamant that the task of providing the IT infrastructure for the golfing circuit is like nothing else in sport.

He has been tasked with the transformation of the Tour’s technology transformation, a project that covers infrastructure, systems, digital, scoring and data management.

The organisation increasingly sees itself as an entertainment company and wants to appeal to new audiences, both in terms of geography and demographics, and to those who can’t physically attend an event.

‘Unique’ in sport

“We are very unique in sport. There’s no one else like us,” he tells Silicon. “In the world of tennis and the big opens, they are effectively planning and preparing for 50 weeks for a two week tournament. Football benefits from a single stadium environment. In F1 they go back to the same venues every year. We are delivering 47 events in 30 countries across 5 continents.

“At the majority of events we are operating at a new golf course and we are operational for four days. That allows us just three days to redeploy for the next tournament and we operate for 48 weeks a year.

“As a consequence of that … we’re a temporary overlay. One of our challenges is to get a level of consistency to all those tournaments.”

Cole helped deliver the communications infrastructure for the London 2012 Olympics during his tenure at BT Global Solutions (BTGS) and has since run his own agency, support tech partners at Rio 2016 and in preparation for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.

Although setting up a TOC is “impractical” for every European Tour event, the Olympic world is a source of inspiration for Cole because it has to use different venues in different locations for each staging.

Event technology

Instead, the European Tour is considering a 24 hour monitoring centre and deploys temporary infrastructure at each course. This includes an on-course IT infrastructure that supports scoring, operations and spectators as well as the media, a private radio network, and support for the host broadcaster.

Indeed, it is the desire to create new content – both broadcast and digital – that has led it to select Tata Communications as a supplier. Having seen the company’s work with F1 and MotoGP, the European Tour was convinced Tata could help deliver a consistent environment at each venue.

“[Tata has] an absolutely critical role in being the conduit for the host broadcaster to the rest of the world,” he explains. “They bring experience and expertise to help us connect to a worldwide audience.”

The deal is seen as a framework partnership that will see Tata develop proof of concepts in areas like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in a bid to reach new audiences.

Cole claims the European Tour has actually seen a rise in linear television broadcasts, but like so many other sports, golf is looking at new types of content and format to compete in an increasingly competitive entertainment market.

New short forms of the game, such as the Shot Clock Masters in Austria, penalise slow play, while others take place under floodlights with music, much like Twenty20 cricket.

“We’re very keen to change the conversation in golf,” he says. “We are now positioning ourselves as an entertainment company and golf is simply the platform. We want to widen the interest and broaden the audience. It’s about making it much more accessible.”

Future vision

Last month, Silicon heard how AS Roma’s Chairman Jim Pallotta wasn’t convinced of the potential of early iterations of VR. However Cole is much more open to the idea of using it for golf.

“I’m come from the world of the Olympics and there is a point of view that sport is a great platform for innovation,” he says. “ In my mind, whilst that’s true that any technology has to be robust. Getting that balance between bleeding edge innovation and tech that’s tried and tested is critical.

“I’m not particularly interested in being number one and bringing new innovation to sport. But I’m very interested in being number 2 or number 3. We owe that to the players and the audience.”

Of course, the European Tour is just one of two major golf circuits. The PGA Tour mainly operates in the US, but the two come together in some areas of collaboration, including the World Golf Championships.

Is there a rivalry, and does this influence how each uses technology?

“I like to position us as healthy competitors,” he replies. “Many players compete on both and we compete for time with the top players, but we collaborate as well and we have a common interest.

“It’s about continuing to ensure golf continues to be compelling and bring in new audiences: both in terms of country and demographics.”

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