Masters Tees Off as PGA Tour Considers Getting Into Gambling

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Honorary starter South Africa's Gary Player tees off to begin Round 1 of the 80th Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, on April 7, 2016. / AFP / Jim Watson (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
  • PGA put out request for proposal to sell data to bookmakers
  • Betting on golf is a $2.8 billion business and growing

Golf betting generates an estimated $2.8 billion every year, and the PGA Tour wants a piece.

The Tour has asked a handful of data companies to submit bids for the right to package real-time tournament data into feeds for gambling houses, according to a “request for proposal” reviewed by Bloomberg News. The governing body of American men’s golf “continues to explore the risk/return trade-off associated with potential entry into the online sports gaming category,” the documents said.

Spokesman Ty Votaw said the PGA Tour sends out proposals “all the time,” and declined to comment specifically on its gaming-related RFP. “We’re far away from any kind of deal,” he said. “We only talk about things when we announce them. We don’t talk about things in progress.”

As the Masters Tournament begins today, enthusiasm for golf continues to flag. Only 3 percent of American adults say that men’s golf is their favorite sport, just above boxing, swimming, and track and field, according to a December Harris Poll. The Tour would be wise to embrace sports betting, which would help retain existing fans and create new ones, said media consultant Lee Berke. 

‘At Risk’

“The PGA Tour is at risk of losing the next generation, said Berke, president of LHB Sports Entertainment & Media. “You have to do something or you’re going to fade away to harness racing.”

But like other professional U.S. sports leagues, the Tour has kept its distance. Sports betting is illegal in most states, and active, high-dollar gambling can call into question the integrity of the contests themselves. National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver has said he thinks sports betting will eventually be legal everywhere in the U.S. and has called for it be be federally regulated. Top executives in other sports tend to side-step the topic completely.

Lucrative Opportunity

As of now, gambling on golf is pretty straightforward. If you want to bet on defending champion Jordan Spieth -- an 8-to-1 favorite to win this year’s Masters -- or take 13-to-2 odds on Australian contender Jason Day, your options are kind of boring. Legal bookmakers in Nevada or overseas will let you pick a player to win, finish in the top 10, or shoot the best round. Then you wait.

Increasingly, gambling houses see more money in live betting, where they can offer a new wager with every stroke. A handful of sites already offer this kind of gambling on golf based on unofficial data feeds.

The growth of this kind of point-by-point wagering has created a lucrative opportunity for leagues. In December, Sportradar renewed its data contract with the International Tennis Federation for $14 million a year over five years -- six times the value of the company’s original deal with the ITF in 2012.

’Financial Upside’

Among those in talks with the PGA Tour are WME/IMG, which has the data rights for the top men’s and women’s tennis tours, and Sportradar, which counts the National Football League as an investor, according to people familiar with the matter. The NFL doesn’t allow its data to be sold to bookmakers. The RFP also asks what other “financial upside” is available, including revenue, profit sharing or equity ownership.

Spokesmen for WME/IMG and Sportradar declined to comment.

Warwick Bartlett, chief executive officer of Isle of Man-based Global Betting & Gaming Consultants, said he expects betting on golf to grow as in-game betting gets more common. Golf is particularly appealing, he added, because many stars of the sport come from countries where gambling is legal, including Australia, England and Northern Ireland.

The Tour said in the RFP that it would evaluate the proposals and determine whether to proceed.

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