Page 11 - GBC Eng winter 2021
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 March 13, 2020 - On what otherwise would be described as a nondescript Friday morning, I boarded a flight from Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport back to New York. I had traveled to Sin City with two primary purposes. Firstly, we were conducting one-on-one golfer interviews for an OEM client, to evaluate consumer reaction to a variety of new retail concepts. Alongside that project was attendance at the Men’s PAC 12 Conference Basketball Tourna- ment, an event for which our team has been consistently researching fan sentiment and the efficacy of in game sponsor activation for many years.
The latter began as it always had, with a few bubble teams competing in front of a good-sized crowd, in the hopes of pulling off an upset. But from the onset, there was an ominous buzz and dark pall brewing around the event. Intense and amplified media coverage about COVID-19 had become pervasive and trouble- some. NBA player, Rudy Gobert, had tested positive for what was then trumpeted as a mysterious but deadly virus.
Midway through the Wednes- day evening session, word came out that spectators would be banned from attending the tourna-
ment the following day. In a span of less than 24 hours, the sports, travel and entertainment world ground to an abrupt halt. Immedi- ately, the NHL turned off the lights in their arenas coast-to-coast, the Blue Jays Spring Training games stopped, the 2020 Memorial Cup to be held in Kelowna was cancelled, and hotel rooms became vacant everywhere.
The continent locked down, and as I sat alone in my row on a flight with about ten people on this Friday the 13th unlike any other, I contemplated the short-term and long-term implications for our industry and all of leisure. As a marketing researcher, I knew that we needed to get a handle on separating reality from conjecture. The next several days was a frenzy. We reached out to clients and partners. I reflected back on an attitudinal consumer pulsing study that my team and I had created at Golf Digest, after the horrific events of 9/11, and the early foundations of our Back to Normal Barometer were born.
Since early April 2020, we have been continuously pulsing the attitudes and behaviours of golfers, travelers and participants in a litany of leisure activities through the Barometer. Our work has garnered major international
media coverage that earned our public relations partner a presti- gious Gold Medal for Best Use of Custom Market Research. The Barometer has regularly informed the likes of some 14 of the leading U.S. trade associations outside of golf, including U.S. Travel, The American Resort Development Association,TheNationalAssocia- tion of Realtors, American Gaming Association, multiple airline and aviation authorities as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and administrative and governing bodies in golf and other sports. It has been an intense but insightful ride that still endures.
Concurrent with our Barometer work, custom golf industry work has not abated as the COVID induced participation surge has literally spawned thousands of in person, virtual and observational golfer interviews. There’s a lot to process, and a lot for the industry to learn.
As we’ve moved through various phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, the golf industry has emerged as one of its few consistent “winners.” Research from our firm and others has chronicled a surge in participa- tion and golf related spending that
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