How the Masters at Augusta gave me a masterclass in brand experience

In this guest post, CEO of DT, Brian Vella, reveals how a trip to the Masters at Augusta revealed what successful sports marketing looks like.

brian Vella - MD of DT - photo from linkedinI was recently fortunate enough to attend the US Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. I went for the golf but walked away with a masterclass in brand and corporate image management.

Since 1934 the focus of the tournament has been to provide the best experience for players and spectators.

While other tournaments around the world – including other sporting codes – would claim the same, the Masters is in a league of its own. Like no other event I’ve experienced, The Masters has next to no commercial intrusions. No sponsor logos or displays. No digital signage. No phones.

This has required the tournament host, the Augusta National club, to stare down enormous commercial opportunities to minimise distractions and stay true to its traditions — golf at its best.

So what is this experience?

Genuinely personal. The tournament staff treat every spectator as a guest. “Welcome to the Masters, sir…welcome to the Masters”. This is how the security staff welcome thousands of arriving visitors. Spoken genuinely and warmly, it’s burned in my memory.

Golf ball about to fall into the cup at sunsetBreathtakingly well presented. At Augusta National, not only is every blade of grass manicured and every azalea in bloom, every image is carefully managed. Only official photographers are allowed. From a spectator’s perspective, the result was unbelievably refreshing. We were all in the moment, rather than trying to capture it on our phones.

Unexpectedly efficient. From the merchandise stores to the food stands, spectator services operate with fantastic efficiency. The minute something is taken from a shelf it’s replenished. No one leaves empty handed or disappointed, and prices are uniformly fair.

Appealingly exclusive. Augusta National could license its brand to an army of manufacturers and sell to anyone through an online store. Instead, they’ve chosen to make Masters merchandise an exclusive part of the tournament experience. You need to go to the Masters to have Masters gear, and that makes it all the more appealing.

Technologically restrained. Augusta National is selective about its use of technology. For spectators around the wan isolation on white of golf itemsorld, the Masters digital experience is more than impressive. In 2016 AT&T/DirecTV broadcast the Masters in 4K Ultra High Definition, the first such live stream UHD broadcast in the U.S.

And through a partnership with NextVR, the Masters live stream could also be experienced stereoscopically on Samsung Gear headsets.

Yet, at the event itself, analogue still rules. There’s no digital signage, electronic scoreboards or giant LED screens. While some might see the old-school scoreboards and strict ban on cameras and phones as out-of-date, they led to the most defining moment of my trip.

When spectators’ groans bellowed from the 12th to the 13th green where we stood watching Jason Day, all we could do was wait for the scoreboard to be updated. The anticipation was thrilling.

i love augusta wooden blocks - think stockWhen that 5 next to Jordan Spieth’s name changed to a 1 (his cumulative score under par) everyone on the golf course was rocked simultaneously. This would never have occurred if people were checking Twitter feeds, websites, mobile apps or watching replays.

Of course, Augusta National’s ‘go-slow’ approach doesn’t come without a price. After many years of controversy, the club only started accepting women members in 2012. But while some traditions need to be left behind, the Masters is proving that brand growth and evolution depend on careful selection. No matter how good your core product, you still need to focus on every aspect of the experience. And no matter how prevalent technology becomes, it can be even more powerful when applied selectively.

Sometimes success is counter-intuitive. For the Masters, saying no to compelling commercial opportunities delivers more long-term control, and value, for the brand.

As Steve Jobs said of Apple: “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.” At the Masters, they don’t do everything. The result is a tournament that’s widely regarded as the best in the world.

Brian Vella is the CEO of DT

Athletes, marketers, broadcasters and codes will all be talking about the biggest issues in sport at the Mumbrella Sports Marketing Summit on July 28.  Click the banner below for more info and tickets.




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