- NBC Sports is partnering with SharpLink Gaming to launch a free-to-play online game for the 43rd Ryder Cup golf tournament.
- The Ryder Cup will be held at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin from September 24-26.
- SharpLink Gaming recently launched a free-to-play fantasy style game with the NFL Minnesota Vikings.
Free-to-play games have become an important marketing tool as sports betting continues to roll out across the United States. It provides an opportunity for residents of states that are ‘behind the curve’ in terms of sports betting regulation an opportunity to play fantasy sports type games that are conceptually similar to wagers available at sportsbooks. This not only familiarizes fans with the intellectual process of handicapping but allows the aggregation of email and other data for future use. Ultimately, the idea is to ‘convert sports fans into sports bettors’–to appropriate a phrase from the SharpLink Gaming press release we’re about to discuss.
Minneapolis based SharpLink Gaming and NBC Sports have announced a collaboration on a free-to-play game for the 43rd Ryder Cup golf event to be held at Wisconsin’s Whistling Straits starting later this week. The Ryder Cup has grown in popularity over the past decade to the point that it’s one of the most anticipated golf TV events of the year. The Ryder Cup was established in 1927 and features head to head match play competition between Team USA and Team Europe (before 1979 it was ‘Team Great Britain’). The Ryder Cup is held every two years–the upcoming event was originally scheduled for 2020 but was postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dating back to the 1979 change in the matchup format when players from continental Europe were made eligible the US team has won 8 Ryder Cups and the Europe Team 11. Europe also retained the Ryder Cup in 1989 when the 28th event ended in a tie. Things haven’t gone well for the United States in recent Ryder Cup competition–Europe is the defending champion and have won 4 of the last 5 Ryder Cups and 7 of the last 9.
The Ryder Cup Fantasy online game will be available on www.RyderCup.com and the official Ryder Cup mobile apps for iOS and Android, providing golf fans in the U.S. and Europe with a fun, even more immersive Ryder Cup experience. Fans will be challenged to choose six golfers from either the U.S. or European teams and earn points the same way the professional golfers will earn points in the Ryder Cup matches. For instance, if a fan’s golfer is part of a winning match/pair, one point is awarded; or if there is tie, the fan earns a half point. The goal is to earn as many fantasy points, as possible. Players will be competing for an ultimate prize pack filled with Ryder Cup gear.
Michael Lowe, Vice President, Digital Strategy and Partnerships at NBC Sports Group, talks about the Ryder Cup game and the partnership with SharpLink:
“We have been impressed with SharpLink’s creative, digital gamification expertise relating to sports and fantasy game development. This new casual gaming experience, designed and developed by SharpLink in collaboration with the digital teams at NBC Sports, PGA of America and European Tour is expected to elevate and enhance fan engagement around our coverage of this world class sporting event. While our core fans will continue to enjoy our televised coverage of the golf competition, the ability to gamify the tournament introduces an entirely new and entertaining dimension to the Ryder Cup experience – particularly for our growing audience of casual fans.”
Rob Phythian, SharpLink’s Chief Executive Officer, gave the view from his company:
“Historically reaching over a half billion households around the globe through televised and digital media coverage, the Ryder Cup has become one of the world’s most popular and celebrated sporting events. We are thrilled to be partnering with NBC Sports and Ryder Cup to engage golf fans through our fun, immersive and interactive gaming experience tied directly to real-time match play in the Ryder Cup tournament. Fans can play individually against all Ryder Cup fans in the game, or challenge others in friendly, direct competition through creation of private groups. In either case, the free-to-play game enables NBC Sports to engage with passionate golf fans throughout the event, giving these fans a reason to keep coming back to the NBC Sports and Ryder Cup digital platforms as the tournament progresses.”
SharpLink has previously collaborated with the Minnesota Vikings and NASCAR on free-to-play games and sports betting conversion services. For an experienced sports bettor, it might be easy to dismiss free to play games as frivolous but they occupy a very important role within the industry. On a micro level, it’s a good way to introduce new players into the sports betting ecosystem. Like the blurb I posted earlier in the article says to ‘convert sports fans into sports bettors’. It’s also an effective marketing tool for media properties and individual sportsbooks. The fundamental premise behind free-to-play games is nothing new–they serve a similar function to the free football handicapping contests that have existed at Nevada sportsbooks serving the locals market for decades.
On a macro level, it further secures sports betting’s place in the ‘mainstream’. The more mainstream that sports betting becomes the better it is for the entire industry and every component within it. To the extent that the average ‘man on the street’ understands sports betting conceptually, the more difficult it is for politicians and regulators to foist a substandard framework on an unsuspecting population.
In the U.S., the 43rd Ryder Cup will be televised beginning on Friday, September 24, 2021 to Sunday, September 26, 2021 on NBC and the Golf Channel, as well as live streamed at RyderCup.com. If you’re in Canada you can watch it on TSN and in Europe on Sky Sports.