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Meet The Member: “With golf, you want to tell the storyline of what’s happening on the leaderboard that impacts the macro view of the competition.”

August 17, 2023

Overseeing the PGA Tour’s digital product development teams and broadcast technology groups, Gutterman regularly has his hands in pushing the Tour forward with new innovations. He was at the forefront of implementing Every Shot Live for the 2021 Players Championship, which livestreamed every shot from every player for the first time at a pro golf tournament. We caught up with him to know more about his journey and work.

Take us of through your journey in sports.

I first started working at sports back when I was working for an internet company, during the first wave of the internet. I was leading a project in 2000-2001 that involved moving, which is the racing NASCAR Racing League here in the States from ESPN & Starwave to Turner Sports at the time.

And that was the first time I’d worked on a sports property and basically ran a team. That was the beginning of what became Turner Sports, which is a huge sports brand here in the States. It has now rebranded as TNT. I worked with NASCAR for many years and did a bunch of interactive stuff, video gaming and other things after that project. And then I met a friend who worked at the PGA Tour who asked me to come down and take a look. So I came down and took a look and turned out I could play golf.

It was a very small team at the time, maybe 10 or 15 people. It was almost like a start-up so I came down here and started building out the teams. We started out very small and had very different ways of approaching sports. Here the Tour was done in joint ventures so when I first got here we were in two joint ventures and the challenge with being in any joint venture is that you’ve got two parties that have to make decisions about things. And when one of them is not aligned with what the goals are, it creates a lot of conflict.

Also, between 2005 and 2012, we came through the whole period of the iPhone being rolled out in the app stores then Android, social media and YouTube, all came up in that same period. So in 2012, we made the decision to take the digital business fully in-house and move away from joint ventures. That’s when we really started building out a team here. Our team if you count all the vendors and staff at that time, went very quickly from probably 20-30 people at that point in time to upwards to 60-70 people. The digital business became a key component of the broader business and became part of our rights deals and we went on to start a whole live-streaming division.

In your time with the PGA Tour, how has your role changed?

It really changed from being focused on the development of the products to being very hands-on with it. Even before sports, I came up as a coder, I understood the  architect of systems so I was always very technically oriented. But my responsibilities have more or less evolved from being a technical architect and product manager to being more of a broader leadership position within the organisation.  I probably work with more Tour departments than I ever have while spending time with our executive team more and more, helping them to understand what comes next and where should we go next. So a lot of my time is spent on shaping where we’re headed next. As these other big projects are going on, I’ll work with our teams and get them pointed in the right direction and part of the role is just to empower the teams here to make sure that they are working on whatever they think is a good idea, or an opportunity for the Tour, whether that’s a fan engagement tool, sponsorship or something for our players. That’s kind of my goal now, to make sure that everybody’s got what they need to go accomplish what they wanted.

Broadcast has changed a lot in the last few years with people wanting to feel as close to the action as possible. How are you guys trying to achieve that?

The most notable initiative is our Every Shot Live initiative, which we started back in 2020 at the Players Championship. This is the ultimate goal of us as a sport to be able to show every fan every shot. So doing Every Shot Live is a big initiative because you what people don’t realize is, we’re on 100-150 acres, there are 18 fields of play. There are often three groups on almost every hole. And so the complexity of getting all of that content off of the course is nothing like any other sport really has to do.

We typically have 24 groups going in the morning at an event and another 24 going in the afternoon, and then the first two days, so 48 groups to show all together. The amount of video has increased, the amount of live videos has increased, the amount of video on demand that we serve has increased in the way that we serve, it has diversified. You can get the simple video highlights on our platforms or you can go and get the story-based type of content that you see like in Instagram reels and others. So finding ways to get fans to see a shot, as we moved to in-app video and now there’s an auto-start video that starts when you open our app, you will be able to see the latest and greatest shots from those players. Our goal is to try and bring everybody closer to the action. We’ve also got the linear broadcast, which is going on during the day, we’ve got four streaming channels that happen with our streaming partners, and we’ve got two more par three streams that run all day with our betting partners.

What are some of the challenges that broadcasting Golf has in comparison to other sports?

With golf, you want to tell the storyline of what’s happening on the leaderboard that impacts the macro view of the competition usually in who is leading and who’s moving up the leaderboard. You have people that want to watch it in different ways so if their favourite player or players are all playing together in a group, you want to be able to see all of them in a group. I think our sport has so many different ways to watch it whether you’re streaming or you’re at an event. I think the complexities involved in golf has always been a challenge and kind of always will be. So finding a way to maintain that macro storyline is really important to us because that’s kind of the big key. Enabling people to watch. Even when Tiger plays, many people didn’t get to see his rounds when he was on Thursday or Friday mornings, or even earlier, Saturday or Sunday mornings. We don’t want our fans to miss that.

Has there been a change in the sort of the consumption habits of golf fans in the last few years? And if so, how do you see this evolving, like, move further moving forward?

You could watch golf three hours a day, four days a week in the time that Tiger started playing. Before Tiger started playing you only got to watch golf two days a week for essentially three hours a day, Saturdays and Sundays. When Tiger started playing, they moved it to four days a week. Then we started streaming from a single hole so that was new. And then in the late 90s, we learned about digital websites. And now you could engage with the PGA tour and see what’s going on seven days a week 24/7. So you had that platform to work on and see the diversity that ended up happening there. But then it exploded into 2007-08 when you got mobile apps and it could be shown on all of them, so now you can engage with the tour, you’ve got social media that pops out, you go quickly from two or three social media platforms to a half dozen that you need to deal with. So what’s ended up happening is kind of the decentralisation of consumption.

And really, you have this proliferation of the ways that when those tools become available to people. They use the internet, or the average person starting to say, “well, you know, what, I’m gonna get all my highlights from Twitter” While you had this decentralisation of consumption, which still continues, there’s a broader amount of content that you’ve now had to create. And so I think the challenge is that we learned very early in the social media days that you can’t just replicate the same piece of content on every platform. Different types of content do well on different platforms. So then you end up having to build teams that are dedicated to YouTube or to different social media.

I think between generative AI and personalization, you’re going to see an even more pronounced decentralization of consumption. Because I think what’s already happening now is the devices that you carry with you every day, right now your phone, is getting smart enough to know what you want when you want. So you’re interested in golf, so you can sign up for push notifications for your favourite players on our app, which push the alerts directly to your phone. Now you don’t have to go in and open an app to see where Rory McIlroy is on the day. You can just look at your phone, you’ll get an alert when it happens.

The next steps are things that are happening around live activities. Now I can say that, my favourite golfers are these three golfers and on my phone all day, while those three golfers are playing, I can just look at my phone and see how those three golfers are different. Or I can look at the live dynamic on the leaderboard or other things. So I think you’re going to see a kind of just detachment from the athlete.

With generative AI coming up the way it has with Siri and Google, Google Home and everything else it’s going to get more productive and smarter so that I could turn to Alexa or I can turn to Siri and just ask them things. It’s going to know the things I want. It’s going to project things on the screen for me, be that on my phone or set of glasses or something eventually down the road. I think now the particular challenge, is what does that world look like? What does that world look like when somebody’s not in the app? How does that impact the way that we give exposure to players that you may not already know? How do you see the whole leaderboard? Where do you access things? I don’t know yet how it’s going impact sponsorships and value but we have plenty of sponsors, so when you look at a screen, there’s a three-and-a-half-inch screen you’re can’t have a whole lot of sponsorship. And the same thing with generative AI when I ask a question of the PGA Tour, the chatbot or other. Over the next 3-5 years you are going to see this slow erosion which will accelerate as people are getting more and more into generative AI and more and more personalization. It will be interesting to see how sponsorship and personalisation work together.

18 holes Augusta or where?

I have had the opportunity to be in Augusta but not play golf. If I had a choice to play 18 holes anywhere right now, it’d be Cyprus on the west coast. It’s a beautiful private course that runs right along the Pacific just near Pebble Beach. And so that’s a place that I’ve never had the opportunity to be at or play so that’s definitely right up there and then of course 18 holes at TPC Sawgrass Stadium course, which is where I do get beaten up.

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