The Match gave sports bettors a real, live competition to bet on
Many sources celebrated the extremely successful match play golf foursome on May 24th pairing superstars Tiger Woods and Tom Brady vs. Phil Mickelson and Peyton Manning. Heading the list were charity benefactors of COVID-19, for which the event was created for. Not far down were sportsbooks worldwide that reaped a very welcome windfall of wagering support at a time emptied by no traditional U.S. sports activity.
Turner Sports announced that "The Match / Champions for Charity" delivered the largest ratings for a golf event in cable television history. Undebatable great entertainment, but more proof that fans are desperate for anything that resembles sports. And without a doubt, evidence furthering the trend that sports bettors will embrace any live featured sporting event, no matter what type of ball is in play.
This was not just a charity match, and it was not just a glorified pro-am. "The Match" assembled a handful of the most compelling sports figures of our lifetime, and each offered a glimpse into the mentality that has made them so.
On the pro golfer side, Woods and Mickelson are perhaps the game's most recognizable faces. Kind of like watching baseball's top two sluggers face off one-on-one in the ultimate home run derby. Brady may be the NFL's GOAT, but Peyton Manning is not that far behind in the league's Top 10 history of greatest all-time quarterbacks.
All in all, it made for great TV. For today's generation, Tiger Woods is golf's GOAT. Nobody ever did nor perhaps ever will have as great an impact upon the game. He seemed relaxed during The Match and in top form. Mickelson contracts a different type of figure, remaining the world's most polarizing golfer. His cockiness and smugness that makes some of us root against was part of this must-see TV. Maybe lucky as well. In the gambling world, Mickelson will forever live in the past shadow of escaping potential prison time, tied to the Billy Walters inside trading scandal.
Manning is not just a great QB, he might be one of the great all-around entertainers of our time. Whether as quest host on Saturday Night Live or on the football field, he can combine humor and insight like few other sporting figures. If he chose to become a full-time broadcaster, he would immediately become one of the best. It was fun listening to him needling Brady to making self-deprecating remarks about his golf game.
Brady's timing could not have been better. His headline transformation from the Patriots to lead the "Tompa Bay" Bucs had been making headlines for over two months. It was made for TV theatre listening in on Charles Barkley's commentary. And almost scripted when Brady's incredible wedge shot silenced Barkley good-natured jokes and lively analysis.
The Gambling Role of Fourplay
If anything, The Match proved the multi-dimensional appeal of golf foursomes in match play can be more interesting and quite lucrative for sportsbooks than conventional PGA tournaments. Before COVID-19, even the top PGA events, including The Masters or The British Open, were decent moneymakers at the top offshore sportsbooks. But isolating The Match on a Sunday afternoon against no competition whatsoever produced surprising results.
Following the event, it opened a debate whether the appeal of direct match play focusing upon sports superstars would draw more attention and wagering dollars. Add in that receiving a result in one day vs. a four-day tournament is more appealing to a bettor. The huge kicker was the menu of proposition wagers offered by all sportsbooks for The Match.
The top books including BetOnline, Bovada, Bookmaker and others had an arsenal of props ready, reminding some of a Super Bowl in June. Everything focusing upon golf and some not on golf was available to wager on. The bettors responded with extremely healthy enthusiasm. Hole to hole action was there, comparable to any basketball or football game.
There is talk the participants, including Woods and Mickelson, enjoyed the event so much, they want to schedule another in the future. Other prominent, well-known PGA golfers wanting to enhance their popularity have made it known they are quite interested as well. Of course, all in the name and purpose of charity if the big networks will sponsor and comply.
The worry here for the PGA is to be careful about what you wish for. Imagine if the baseball All-Star Game became much more popular than the World Series. That surely would not be good.
The bigger question is likely whether the effect of the Coronavirus was the primary reason The Match II drew the surprising record Nielson audience. Or was it the immense popularity of the named four competitors? Were many true golfers kept off the course that day due to COVID-19 restrictions? And did the vacuum of nothing else to wager upon also help to drive-up numbers?
The likely answer is all the above contributing and the almost certainty we will see more match-play golf events coming soon. The popular formula pairing two well-known PGA golfers with two highly recognizable sports celebrities, who are also credible on the links. Throw in a very entertaining announcer like Barkley. The additional wild card might be a big audience of people on a beautiful golf course IF the world settles the Coronavirus pandemic.
Wide Open Fairways for Golf Wagering
Although not intended, The Match II certainly provided a huge boost for the popularity of golf wagering. With no normal, baseball, NHL hockey or NBA basketball on the dial, only horse racing was the true wagering alternative for the U.S. bettor to pursue that Sunday.
The PGA has already clearly embraced legalized wagering in 2019, putting out press statements of their intentions. Partnerships and wagering alliances with corporations have been formed introducing new entities, including ShotLink and GolfBet, from The Action Network. Besides the NBA, no other professional sport has been more bullish in the U.S. than the PGA toward the growth of sports wagering.
Betting on golf is nothing new and even Michael Jordan did not invent it. It likely began when the game originated at the old course at St. Andrews in Scotland within the 15th century. I am reasonably certain they had prop wagering back then. And likely no worries they could get safely within six feet of each other on the greens or need to wear a mask.
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.