Set aside whether anyone should be throwing the d-word around after a mere five events, and look at the team structure itself. So far the players and the league have spent an inordinate amount of time touting the attractiveness and benefits of team golf.
But it isn’t about how the players feel about teams. It’s about the fans. And not just in an I-need-to-show-fealty-to-LIV sort of way. The players obviously see the benefit and the added camaraderie that comes from being part of a team—especially the golfers perennially finishing fourth on winning teams, riding the coattails to larger paydays.
The fans need some connection to a team. Why do any fans choose particular teams? The obvious answer is that most fans have a geographic connection to their teams. The fans were born or live in a respective city. Or there might be some family ties going back several generations.
LIV needs to connect fans with its teams.
Whatever the reason, LIV’s teams haven’t given fans any reason to adopt them, beyond liking individual golfers.
LIV has at least kept many of the superstar signings on consistent teams to date, but several lesser-known golfers have bounced from team to team. Travis Smyth, for example, has been on three. And Scott Vincent has actually been on four different teams. Sure, professional athletes in all sports are traded or sign with new teams—but not every week.
The Crushers, Cleeks, and Smash Golf Clubs (names reminiscent of small-town minor league baseball teams) have all had 10 different golfers on their rosters over five events. Torque has had 13. Even the “dynastic” 4 Aces have had 7 different golfers during its illustrious history—though, the four-peat has been accomplished with the same squad.
Across all teams, the average number of different golfer appearances is 8.8. This means that each team has, on average, turned over its roster at least one full-time. How can fans buy into this concept without some deeper connection? What do they actually root for?
Compare this to the Presidents Cup starting this week. These teams inevitably turn over as well. But which players make the Presidents Cup team isn’t really the point. Think about the fans who tune in every four years to watch the Olympics or the World Cup but can’t name a single player.
It’s easy to root for your country. And even accepting the turnover on the US Presidents Cup teams, there’s enough continuity over each two-year break. Since 2013, the team is on average 43% the same from one event to the next, and that’s including the current 2022 roster (which has become mildly controversial for not including LIV players from the 2019 team).
So what could LIV do to drive more genuine fan engagement toward its team system? Well, a $50m purse at the team championship is certainly nice—even though it doesn’t solve the problem outlined above. It at least puts the focus on the teams and away from the individual golfers, much like the Presidents and Ryder Cup events.
In addition, Punch has formed an all-Australian team. That’s certainly a start in rooting the teams in something deeper. There was a major push to bring on Hideki Matsuyama, in part, to form a Japanese team.
The other option is to take a Formula1-Esque approach and have the sponsors manage the teams (initial reporting has suggested LIV might move in this direction). Fans hold the same ironclad affinities for clubmakers that racing fans hold for carmakers. Fans could fall for a TaylorMade team or a Titleist team, or actively root against a Callaway team.
As it currently stands, golf fans have no reason to root for the Hy Flyers over the Iron Heads. If LIV wants fans to genuinely buy into the team format, it needs to anchor them in something deeper than the individuals associated within them. Locations. Sponsors. Anything to give fans something to latch on to.