In-Play Golf Wagering Has Endless Possibilities, But Overwhelming Fans and Bettors Concerns PGA Tour

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Jon Rahm can’t escape the digital gaze of ShotLink. Nor can any of his fellow PGA Tour competitors. On the tee. In the rough. The unblinking digital eyes are always watching. And taking notes.

With each shot during a tournament week, sensors record 23 data points that are collated by IMG Arena, a London-based company that churns that information into a huge array of betting markets supplied to subscribing sportsbooks through its Golf Event Centre.

There’s a lot more product than demand right now, with golf accounting for, at best, 1% of the annual legal sports betting handle in the United States.

But PGA Tour vice president of gaming Scott Warfield thinks the Tour is well-positioned for the future. Because if the American bettor becomes as enamored with live betting as much as their European counterparts, the ever-expanding array of in-play wagers ShotLink and IMG Arena can concoct will be waiting.

“If we all believe that’s where the US market will eventually go, I would like to believe the PGA Tour is about as well set as any to capitalize on that,” Warfield told Gaming Today at The Players Championship in early March. “Time will tell. We’re certainly not just converting an illegal market over to legal, like some of my counterparts. We’re creating a market and trying to get people engaged with the 17th hole this week and green/or not green. That’s a different value prop than ‘Who’s going to hold up the trophy on Sunday?”

IMG Arena Turns Shot Data Into Bettable In-Play Golf MarketsTPC-Sawgrass-odds

Part of the trick, IMG Arena chief commercial officer Max Wright said, is crafting real-time golf betting markets that don’t overwhelm would-be bettors gazing at their phones.

“It’s insane,” he said of the amount of data being wrangled. “If you think about each shot, we are receiving information that the player is addressing the ball, the player has hit the shot, the shot has landed, the light conditions and situation of the shot, the distance of the shot. And so all of this information is broken up into segments and packets of data which are delivered for every single shot.

“We provide [sportsbooks] with access to the raw data if that’s what they need. The majority of them don’t want that. What they want is access to data and live odds, which we produce for them.”

Bettors would hardly know IMG Arena is behind the offerings, as the markets are coded to fit into the design of whatever sportsbook app is utilizing them.

Nearest to the pin.

Driving distance over/under.

Winner of the hole in a playing group.

Almost endless. That’s made pairing the new bet types, Warfield said, with live streams or featured groupings important to reduce clutter and increase comfort for sportsbook app users.

“There is a menu of betting options that is probably overwhelming today,” Warfield said. “If you compare that to what people are used to, which is outright, maybe some head-to-heads, we’re kind of moving on that pendulum.”

ShotLink is the fulcrum of the pendulum. The PGA Tour began developing the system 20 years ago with no intention or idea, the Tour says, of it being able to tee up sports betting. The possibility of sports betting outside of Nevada wouldn’t become develop until the Supreme Court muted the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018.

PointsBet Leads American Sportsbooks in Golf Markets Offered

Wright said 96% of licensed operators in the United States subscribe to IMG Arena’s golf feed, including FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, and PointsBet, which so far has offered the greatest breadth of bettable markets with upwards of 600 bet types.

“We’re starting to deliver more and more live betting opportunities, but it’s not an overnight thing,” Wright said. “Step one is: deliver the front-end experience and the underlying outright betting market.

“So, who will win the tournament? Who the round leader will be? And then over time what we’ve seen is an introduction of more and more betting market types on a shot-by-shot level as the consumer appetite has increased.”

Live Streams Inside Sportsbook Apps a Growing Opportunity and Challenge

“You’re always aware as a golf fan that what you’re seeing may or may not be in the moment.”

The appetite for video to accompany those markets led IMG Arena to launch a live-streaming component in 2013. Currently, the company has the rights to present two par-3 holes per round of a PGA Tour event as a “companion experience,” Wright said, to televised coverage.

“Obviously, the way in which the broadcast is presented within golf is what you’re seeing is near-live, highlights,” Wright explained. “This is kind of curated on the fly and delivered to you. So you’re always aware as a golf fan that what you’re seeing may or may not be in the moment. What live streaming within the Event Centre does is that it gives you a wire-to-wire feed of every single player going through two of the par three holes: one of the front line, one of the back nine.

“You can choose just to sit there and watch the players come through the holes and then bet on shot markets relating to that whole specifically.”

Latency, or lag times inherent with live broadcasts can put video in front of viewers upwards of a minute behind when the action happened on the course. By contrast, digital information used to form bets can be processed in two seconds. Live streams built into sportsbook apps can be delivered quicker than broadcast or cable outlets.

“The question is, do you really want that?,” Wright posited. “Because at that point in time, what a betting consumer would be seeing would be substantially ahead of what they’d be seeing from a broadcast experience, which would almost be ruining their entertainment event.

“Or sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We’ve seen instances where live streaming has been delayed for a few seconds to make sure that everything kind of marries up.”

About the Author
Brant James

Brant James

Senior Writer
Brant James is a senior writer at Gaming Today. He has covered the sports betting industry in the United States since before professional sports teams even knew what an official gaming partnership entailed.

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