Back early in 2018, when Justin Thomas holed out on the 72nd hole in Mexico to get into a playoff, I remember tweeting something along the lines of “If Tiger had of done that, we would all be getting the tissues out.” Of course, tissues referring to masturbation. 2018 has been a fascinating year for me, I’ve won two golf tournaments, I’ve experienced a number of different health events from ending up in hospital to doing my back in, and I’m now followed on Twitter by Ann Summers. One thought I’ve had this year though has kept on popping up; Sports stars of the early 2000’s, continue to wield enormous power.
There’s an emptiness in today’s generation of achievements, of which mine are meagre. Modern standards however are fighting for exposure and excitement in a world where consumers have embedded within them memories of a recent past. I think in golf this year, certain accomplishments have warranted more of a viral dance, but we’re not dancing. We’re stumbling up the hill of consumption while exhausted. And bored. Until Tiger comes along, then BANG, a shot of adrenaline, like Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Tiger being the doctor, Sherlock being the consumer. While the efficacy of modern medicine is gradually wearing thin, certain sports stars of the early 21st Century still contain within them the antidote to numbness.
Golf isn’t unique in this. Bizarrely, something I never imagined would happen, did happen in 2018, whereby I drew comparisons (in my own head) between golf and WWE Wrestling. WWE has a similar problem to golf in that its pull seems to lie in showcasing the stars of yesteryear. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker, these legends, continue to perform to salivating crowds much in the same way Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson do. I say ‘problem’ not because this isn’t good, or exciting, but because fairly soon, golf and WWE are going to have to stand on its own two feet without these stars being part of it. And that’s going to be challenging, for a number of reasons.
PewDiePie (YouTuber) has 75 million subscribers. His audience is dominated by 16-24 year olds. More and more it seems, young adults are becoming addicted to sites such as YouTube, and this is a wildly different form of consumption to what we’ve been used to. Finding a way of converting these people from YouTube to sports coverage isn’t something I have the faintest clue in how to do, but I’m not under the impression it can, or will happen naturally. If the future therefore isn’t subscription services through television, golf among other sports, will have to find a way of exploring this, without losing the revenue it currently receives through television rights. Competing in a world where gaming and cosmetic tutorials rule the roost might be tough.
In 2019, the European Tour will have a Legends Category. Within this category are roughly 12 players who are, as defined by the tournament committee’s parameters, ‘Legends.’ Within this group are players such as Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam, just to name a few. It goes without saying, they are legendary, and I have as much respect for their careers as anyone. However, for these guys to be eligible to gain entry into events like the BMW PGA at Wentworth ahead of guys who finished 30th on the R2D in 2018 (without winning), seems to me to be somewhat odd. This type of category exposes the very nature of what I talked about above (eluding specifically to WWE), in that we will seemingly do anything and everything to make it so that stars of the past can continue to be paraded in an attempt to bring in viewers. This may prove to be valuable and indeed effective, but for how long, and at what cost? When we undercut skill in this way, I believe we risk validating the idea of entitlement above the virtue of competence.
It would therefore seem that golf currently sits in the void between young people who consume via the internet on sites such as YouTube, and the elderly population who continue to enjoy television, even in spite of the burgeoning costs, that seem to want to be reminded of the excitement they felt around the turn of the century when television took off, and sportsmen became stars.
I don’t even think this problem is exclusive to golf and WWE. Tennis is likely experiencing a similar problem. Tennis is a nice example for me to use because I myself cannot imagine a time in the future where I could stop drooling nostalgically over Roger Federer. Maybe, the elderly amongst us would say they feel the same way about Andre Agassi, but it’s not clear to me that we’ve at all transitioned over to the modern generation of sports stars yet. Some might say that’s because they are ‘boring’ or ‘advised,’ therefore not themselves. It might be that we are all bored of television and consumption in this format.
Finally, if sport can find a way of recapturing people’s interest and vigour, then maybe politics will return to the quieter niches of coverage, where some might say it belongs. The politicalisation of sports is maybe just an attempt to regain this share of the pie. The world would be a much better place however, if politics took on more of what sport is about.