It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to The Stephen Proctor Golf Industry Lunch in association with the Golf Foundation. It’s wonderful to see so many friends back again, and to have a considerable number attending for the first time. This is the 37th lunch that Sports Marketing Surveys has been funding, and it is such an important event to have the industry gather. St Andrews for the 150th Championship is a historic venue and this is a truly historic sporting occasion. Obviously, as Richard has said, Stephen is very much missed – but we are very pleased that Lynne has joined us today.
When the first Open Championship was held in 1860, the sporting world was a very different place. Football’s first fixture had yet to be played. Test match cricket would not be played for another 17 years nor would Wimbledon. As for Silverstone, the motorcar had not even been invented.
Growth of golf
It may not have been a straightforward year for golf, but, in so many ways, it has been a strong one. Despite the winter lockdown, rounds played hit record levels in 2021 in Great Britain and continue to grow in 2022, not just against lockdown affected months in 2020 and 2021 but also against 2019 and 2018. Participation in 2021 on full length courses was 4.7M – and so still significantly ahead of the 2006 pre-pandemic high of 4.1M.
Around the world, it is encouraging to see record numbers of golfers. Full-length course user participation rose to over 66 million worldwide in 2021, five million higher than the previous record set in 2012. There are almost 11 million golfers in Europe, a healthy increase from the 7.9 million counted in 2016.
At SMS we have also invested in opening our new Asian office to try and help golf businesses capitalise on the growing appetite for the game there. SMS Asia is being run by Eric Lynge – and it is great to have him attend his first golf industry lunch. Our first dedicated research programme in Asia looked at golfers’ playing habits pre-pandemic and identified an enormous attitude to take the sport back up as restrictions eased. Asia, where driving range use or even, in markets like Korea, simulator golf, is widespread, is also a good example of why it is important to look at golf in all its forms and not just on the course. Around the world, total engagement with golf dwarfs the number of people playing full length courses.
Worldwide, golfers are telling us clear stories about why they play. There are important differences to understand, but some things are clear. The sport’s mental and physical health benefits, its social opportunities, family friendly nature, and the ability to play with different generations are all key to its enduring appeal. This has, to some extent always been true, even if some of these benefits have gone underreported. But there is a sense that now the pandemic has raised the stakes, putting a clearer emphasis on the value of fresh air and self-care, on spending more of our time doing activities we love.
Golf is not alone from benefitting from this. In America, SMS research on behalf of the Physical Activity Council of America, a programme which covers over 100 sports and activities, shows that more people were active than ever before in 2021. That growth is helping the US sports goods business (which reached a value of 111 billion dollars in 2021) outperform the economy.
And this is all with room still for growth. The same participation study in America found that 27% of all Americans were still inactive. Sport England’s Active Lives study gives the exact same figure for adults in England. More people are recognising the value of sport, but that does not mean that the work can stop in helping getting them engaged and involved.
There are challenges to come of course. Increases in the cost of living will impact on leisure spending, including on golf. Leisure time will no doubt contract slightly in the short term. Already companies are moving back towards the office or towards hybrid schedules, and the time many people carved for sport out of what was once commuting will be reduced. But it will not reduce entirely, and, with society running trials of schemes like the four-day working week, it may, in the medium to long term, even stand to increase again.
Grassroots participation and community activity, in golf and other sports, is something that we have been increasingly focusing on. It has meant understanding women’s experiences of welcoming and hostile environments within the sports industry. To quote England Netball “The Women’s Sporting Journeys insight and the sport-specific netball insight also provided by SMS has been incredibly well received and really enhanced our understanding of what women value and the pain points they face throughout their lives. Netball participation is super squiggly, 7 in 10 women take a break at some point in their lives, much higher than any other team or individual sport.”
In my view, this squiggliness is something to be celebrated and understood further, because making sport accessible to all at different points of a life is something that is so vital. As a society, we think we know about the value of sport, but I strongly believe that we have only scratched the surface in understanding its true importance to our communities.
Those who are not here
Richard has spoken movingly about some of his memories of Stephen Proctor, who would have loved to see the progress that his beloved sport of golf continues to make. Ian Peacock who hosted the first lunch is absent today – having attended 37 times uninterrupted. Health issues mean he is absent today, and also missed.
Fewer of you will have known James Smythe, although James was also an important contributor to SMS in his role as the founder of Culture of Insight. For those who do not know, Culture of Insight was a long term partner of Sports Marketing Surveys, providing dashboarding services for a number of our core projects. It was James and his team who, for example, developed the dashboards that are making the US participation data more accessible and interactive than ever. Together, we built the dashboard for the Bicycle Association Cycling Market Data Service, powered by SMS, which now tracks more than a million unique products and an estimated 70% plus of all cycling sales in the UK every month. James passed away in April and will be missed.
With James’ blessing, SMS acquired the assets of COI. This includes Joe Petersen joining our team – who is our only current international sport representative, competing for GB in marathon canoe racing. We are excited to use new and in-house skills in data preparation and visualisation to give you ever deeper and easier to interpret insight.
Back to the future
At SMS, we have never taken our connection with and responsibilities to the past for granted, nor have we let those stand in the way of taking the right next step.
We were delighted a couple of weeks ago to announce the arrival of Geoff Zeidler as the new Executive Chairman of Sports Marketing Surveys in Europe and Asia, and who joins us here today. I hope many of you get a chance to meet him. Geoff brings a broad and valuable skillset to SMS which will be hugely important as we embark on a period of providing new technological solutions, and strategic qualitative and quantitative support across the international sports business.
We will be building on The Cycling Market Data Service and in fact, we recently extend the programme for another five years with the Bicycle Association. Because what we are finding is providing crucial strategic insight as well as data that lets the industry advocate for its cause strongly, helping to keep shops open in lockdown, helping to deliver industrial and infrastructure support. Already, cycling is a £1.5 billion industry in the UK, and it is growing.
We are pleased to say that we will keep going back to the future in other sports, later this year. Plans are well underway to run new market intelligence programmes in running and outdoors. We have already secured the support of key organisations including Running Industry Alliance and the European Outdoor Group, as well as key individual retailers and brands. We also plan to expand our cycling offering with new market intelligence programmes in Europe.
Football’s transfer window may be in full flow, but we have been active in the transfer market all year and are delighted with our new signings, Aneesa Ali and Rob Cobain, who will be vital to building up our market intelligence offering. It is also a real pleasure to welcome back Sarah Goward to our team and to the lunch today.
This course and this tournament, like many things in business, remain familiar. They give us a chance to remember the past, to seek inspiration, measure our legacy, and deliver something memorable. But, crucially, they are never stuck in the past. To be part of an Open is to bear witness to and to be part of something very special. There is magic in this storied place and in golf’s great events.
Lunches like this do not just happen – I would just like to thank my team here today. Obviously, without doubt Richard Payne – who is Mr. SMS Golf, Erica Healy whose insight and leadership in research is unrivalled, Vikki Zeila who is the qualitative insight and segmentation expert, thanks to Sarah Goward for her golfing participation leadership – and to the two Rob’s for their input. Of course, then there is Diski – without who this lunch would not happen.
Do come and talk to us – and see how we can help use insight to make your businesses better. That is our challenge, and our offer to you.
So, as I finish – let me finish with one final fun fact. We are in Scotland, famous for golf, whisky, bagpipes, and, of course, The Proclaimers. If these famous Scottish brothers had “walked 500 miles and 500 more – just to fall down at your door” every year The Open was held, they’d now have racked up 150,000 miles, by which time they could have walked The Old Course 36,139 times, which I think we can all agree would have been a better use of their time.
We are about to witness the magic of the game of golf in St Andrews this week.
I wish you all a truly magical week at this 150th playing of The Championships and a wonderful summer.