In preparing for The Match 3 later this month, executive producer Bryan Zuriff forecasts a bright future for the celebrity golf outing, and if all goes well, it could result in a network bidding war.
Zuriff, the co-creator of the celebrity golf tournament The Match, said the third installment promises more entertainment, more celebrity call-ins and more golf cart bantering, though it'll be the first event without Tiger Woods.
"We're losing maybe the greatest golf of all time for maybe the worst of all time," said Zuriff, who is also Hollywood producer best known for his work on Showtime's Ray Donovan series.
The Match 3 will be held on Nov. 27 and feature PGA Tour star Phil Mickelson, former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning and NBA icons Steph Curry and Charles Barkley.
The Match 2 generated the highest golf ratings in cable history (average of 5.8 million viewers) and raised $20 million for Covid-19 relief. But Zuriff said Woods' private nature "doesn't lend itself to what this is becoming."
"I think it's more than just golf," he said, "And Tiger is the greatest golfer of all time. But to spend three hours with these guys in the golf carts where they should open up, you don't get that with Tiger."
The Match 3 will air on WarnerMedia's TNT network and raise money for Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Sports gambling company DraftKings will be the event's betting partner. The company told CNBC bets have so far favored the Curry and Manning team beating Barkley and Mickelson. DraftKings plans to expand its offers over the next few days as it gathers more information on the event.
Zuriff cautioned Curry is an underrated golfer and expects him to make the Match 3 competitive.
"He's right below the pro level," Zuriff said of Curry. "He's preparing to win because he takes his golf seriously. And the fact of beating a pro [Mickelson] is a big challenge for him."
In his interview with CNBC, Zuriff didn't elaborate on the cost of the Match 3 but noted, "our ads dollars are higher than our expense."
Zuriff said the ad revenue for the Match 2 was "massive because we're delivering four major athletes to an event with a real element of drama to it."
It's here Zuriff wants to build on the event annually. He said The Match would draw interest on Black Friday, which he labeled "a dead day in sports."
This year, outside of college football games, the four major pro sports leagues are off. In a typical year, NBA and NHL games are usually played on Black Friday, but with Covid-19 impacting schedules, MediaRadar CEO Todd Krizelman said the Match is a great investment for advertisers looking for eyeballs.
"It's a highly unique, one-of-a-kind event with top name talent," Krizelman said via email. "This is a special event airing on TNT who broadcasts NBA and MLB games, both of which will be in the off-season. In the absence of other programming, this means that TNT will be aggressively marketing the exclusive to their audience."
According to the ad firm, pre-pandemic Black Friday ad spend Thanksgiving was roughly $23 million. The firm also estimated The Match 2 attracted 65 brands, which drove approximately $5.8 million in spend across four WarnerMedia's networks (HLN, TBS, TNT, TruTV) in May.
Longtime marketing executive Tony Ponturo said the event's "entertainment value" should also attract ad dollars with more personable figures like Curry and Barkley.
"There's interest there," said Ponturo, who served as vice-president of Anheuser-Busch global media sports and entertainment marketing for 17 years. "When Mickelson and Tiger played, I think people were looking for more banter and having some fun."
Asked about the Match occurring every year after Thanksgiving, Ponturo said it would emulate the historic Skins Game. Last played in 2009, the game combined four PGA Tour golfers who competed for holes that equaled prize money.
"It was fun golf, and it was different," said Ponturo of the Skins Game.
The first installment of The Match in November 2018 between Woods and Mickelson was for a $9 million prize and received positive viewership, though it was branded as a pay-per-view event.
"I think there is a place for it with the right individuals," Ponturo added. "Maybe after five or six of them, it may start to exhaust itself, but at least there is something there for the moment."
Zuriff teased Woods' return would excite more interest in the future but previewed a Brady versus Patrick Mahomes match in near term.
"There's a version of that where maybe he teams up with Justin Thomas and takes on Phil and Tom Brady potentially," Zuriff said.
The Match is under an agreement with Turner on a year-by-year basis, according to Zuriff, who did not reveal specifics of the pact. If it continues to gain popularity and solid ratings, it could create interest from other networks. Zuriff didn't rule out future bidding war, but said the Match is better suited for Turner's promotion and presentation style and predicted a long partnership.
Also, Zuriff has a good relationship with WarnerMedia chairman Jeff Zucker and Turner Sports president Lenny Daniels. And of course, they have Barkley, who Zuriff again praised for helping make the Match 2 successful.
"It's not about golf, it's about personality," Zuriff said. "And that's what I'm hoping this turns into."