The Ryder Cup – a sporting and marketing phenomenon

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The four annual golf majors are fantastic sporting occasions but the Ryder Cup, which takes place at Le Golf National in France this weekend, is bigger and better, attracting millions of golf fans, sports fans and even non-fans. The three-day event dominates the headlines – both news and sports – and sends social media into a frenzy of sharing. For a competition that was once only supported by a few die-hards, it is a remarkable renaissance. What lessons can we learn from the success of this iconic contest?


Long before most sports had the courage to adapt their formats, the Ryder Cup was happy to reinvent itself. A one-sided match between the United States (the winners) and Great Britain & Ireland (the losers) was turned into a match between the US and Europe – a compelling and very competitive continental clash. Suddenly, the Ryder Cup makes sense. Fans from both sides of the Atlantic have fallen in love with the event. The players seem to love it just as much – and they don’t even get paid! Whatever our product or service, challenging the status quo can pay serious dividends.

Less Is More

Sport is ubiquitous. Soccer/basketball/baseball wallpapers television and radio and digital platforms. Viewers look at their screens, but do they love what they are watching? Are they engaged emotionally? Is the drama of each game impinging on their consciousness? Increasingly, the answer is no. The marketplace is saturated. The Ryder Cup comes around less often and that is why we love it. Let’s not forget the theory of diminishing marginal returns. It’s real. Less is more. Should we release 50 new products this year? Or ten better ones that are easier to promote with great content and create a stir in the marketplace?


The Ryder Cup is a match between the USA and Europe, which happens nowhere else in major sport. It’s a one-off, a marketing man’s dream. It’s such a powerful proposition that it’s a surprise it hasn’t been copied by other sports. There’s another thing. US sport is largely a domestic affair so when it does venture on to the world stage, it’s a big deal. The question: what can we do that no one else does?


Golfers spend their entire career playing selfishly for themselves against the rest of the tour. Apart, that is, from the Ryder Cup, which is a selfless team game. Forget individual glory and multimillion-dollar prize money. It’s about the team. That’s it. There’s no paycheque at all, just the payback after a job well done. In the Ryder Cup, it adds to the appeal of the three-day tournament. Fans love teams. For many, sport is best when it’s tribal rather than individual. In business, harnessing team spirit is obviously beneficial. Perhaps a big bonus isn’t always the best incentive!


At first, the European challenge was unfocused, but then a charismatic Spaniard, Severiano Ballesteros, decided to take the bull by the horns. Brilliant, unconventional and fiercely competitive, he was unintimidated by the powerful Americans and became the talisman of the new European team. He was brave, built self-belief and led by example. Even when the odds were stacked against him, he never wavered. Europe’s first victories would not have happened without him. For anyone who aspires to lead an organisation – from a corporate entity to a football team – Seve is an inspiration.


Sport thrives on controversy. It creates drama, suspense, heroes, villains – hence a new raft of fans. Controversy, which creates lots of compelling content, is a huge boon for marketing executives. The Ryder Cup has shown how it can be done. After its reinvention in 1979, it became as fierce as any sporting rivalry with patriotic posturing by players and partisan fans. The atmosphere at the 1991 tournament at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, was so aggressive it was dubbed the “War on the Shore”. Captivating stuff. Imagine the social media response in today’s digital age. Creating controversy is a great marketing tactic.


Marquee sporting events can disappoint. We tune-in hoping to experience something special but the event fails to meet the hype. The Ryder Cup, owing to its clear design and compelling proposition, always produces unforgettable memories – a series of defining moments that have entered the sporting pantheon. The Ryder Cup – a perfect sports marketing template – is a great example of how a failing product can be rethought, updated and transformed using its DNA into something new that works perfectly.

At Paragon we enjoy the challenge of telling corporate stories in a fresh and compelling way. If you’d like to talk to us about updating or refining your content strategy, we’d love to help. Why not contact our team?

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