Integrity risks could be at stake with new technology and appetite for what used to be a boring wagering sport
Who would have ever made a serious bet five years ago that the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) would have raced to the front tee almost as enthusiastically as the NBA (National Basketball Association) embracing a new era of sports wagering into the United States?
I don't think even a "gentlemen’s bet" would have been worthy of predicting how hard the PGA and the golf community has come forward endorsing licensed and regulated U.S. sports betting since the reversal of PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) eighteen months ago. Given the somewhat stodgy, conservative reputation of professional golf and its followers, plus the rigid rules of the game, it would have been a longshot.
Everything seemed to change about a year ago, quickly following the passage of PASPA in May of 2018. Surprisingly, the PGA initiated a welcoming attitude to sports betting as a bridge to new popularity in the sport. It seems to be working as sportsbook odds on players winning major tournaments like The Masters, British Open, etc. are being tossed about by ESPN commentators like this week's college and NFL football games.
That's great, but imagine the mechanics of wagering on a player to win a golf tournament vs. a football game or a basketball or baseball game. A similar comparison of a seven game playoff series to collecting on one game. With one big difference. A bettor is wagering against perhaps 30 to 40 other competitors instead of just one team. More of like a future bet involving a four-day weekend.
A New Golf Course
Like creating a new menu, something had to be done and it looks like the PGA,with the cooperation of many sportsbook operators, are taking aggressive action. The PGA Tour is rolling out expanded proposition (prop) betting beginning in 2020, providing bettors with many different opportunities to wager on selected golfers on a shot-by-shot basis. A somewhat version of the rising popularity of in-play wagering.
Shortly after the new year, bettors will be able to wager on unique bet types not previously authorized by the PGA Tour. Wagers could include live betting on the number of greens hit in regulation by a golfer during a single round, as well as individual props on whether a golfer will birdie a certain hole.
This news comes right after the September deal between the PGA tour and IMG Arena (the data rights source) that made the IMG Arena the official data distributor for media and betting purposes across all events on the PGA tour schedule. Within the details the IMG Arena will acquire bettor-sector exclusivity for the delivery of live, shot-by-shot match and even data for global operators.
According to a press release last week, the Tour will use its proprietary ShotLink system to create countless new markets for betting on golf, said Tour Senior Vice President for Tournament Administration Andy Levinson.
Levinson added, "while the Tour is encouraged by the added fan engagement that live shot-by-shot betting could generate, it remains concerned on the potential integrity risks that could arise — namely from pirated data."
One of the Tour’s key concerns is unlicensed data scouts transmitting betting data to sportsbook operators. The so-called practice of scouting over the top, typically violates ticketing procedures at professional sports events around the world.
Translated, that means monitoring every shot from hundreds of golfers from every hole in every tournament within 'in-play' type wagering is a very costly and very difficult process to maintain and administer. During an average Tour event, ShotLink tracks thousands of data points. For each shot, ShotLink creates 25 data points, according to Levinson. Based on a tournament with 144 entrants at the start of a week (with an average score of 70 per round), ShotLink will track more than 30,000 shots.
Another problem here is how to keep score.
A birdie is a birdie but how do we accurately measure a Rory McIlroy vs. Matt Kuchar drive? Will bettors trust new ShotLink technology like accepting the feet distance of a home run we’ve come to believe. Another question involves the basic demand for such kind of wagers. That is all very new with no marketing research study I've read.
Within the industry there is some skepticism whether official league data is even necessary for operators. Also, there is a bit of cynicism from the public as another cost and uninvited idea from another organized league taxing sports wagering.
In sheer logic, how large of a bet would any operator accept for one specific shot on one hole in any golf tournament for a professional golfer to risk their entire career? Yes, it's always been a greater concern that single-entry sports like golf or tennis face greater cheating and scandal risk vs. team sports. But suggesting a golfer intentionally shanks a shot for his or someone else's financial gain is a stretch. The amount of money just isn't there. And to think that someone could potentially steal unlicensed data to gain great advantage is an even bigger stretch.
The Good News
The most encouraging aspect here is interesting potential for these types of proposition wagering for golf fans. It's a new way to keep people awake at home during any tournament besides the majors. Also, a realistic boost for television ratings and with that, additional new people playing golf.
For the PGA, all this betting action is no doubt a way to increase interest, popularity and awareness in this centuries-old grand game. Oh, please excuse me.
Monopoly is a game. Golf is a sport.
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, including previews and picks from Glenn, click here.