All new sports leagues are hard. It’s harder if people can’t wrap their heads around what the new league does.
Last year, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy announced they were partnering on a new venture.
What does it do? “Build pioneering ventures that feature progressive approaches to sports, media and technology,” according to the boilerplate. So … give me a clue.
Part of the business is a league. The first problem with the league – the name. It’s TGL – Tomorrow’s Golf League.
Because no one recognizes that acronym, it’s often referred to as TGL Golf League. So Tomorrow’s Golf League Golf League. Sometimes people say The TGL – The Tomorrow’s Golf League. Which isn’t much better.
That’s the first thing the branding wonks have to figure out.
What does TGL do? Indoor golf.
They don’t say it like that because ‘indoor golf’ is not sexy. Indoor golf is a first date with a guy who couldn’t get it together enough to make restaurant reservations.
The best way to avoid saying indoor golf is to talk around it at great length. The last tab on the league’s home page is ‘TGL Explained’ (a very bad sign).
The explainer is long and reads like an engineering schematic. There’s a cantilevered putting green, something called ‘screenplay’ and for reasons that are not made anything close to clear, a referee.
But still indoor golf.
Think of all the things you like about golf – that it gets you outside into a bucolic space. Somewhere you can pretend for a few hours that you don’t live in a concrete rats’ maze. Somewhere you can be with pals getting a little bit of exercise while doing something you’re very bad at, but feeling good about yourself for continuing to try.
Golf is a way to temporarily separate yourself from the irritations of life. Since the tiger hunt went out of style, it’s the closest many of us get to feeling fancy.
TGL is the opposite of that. It’s thousands of people wedged into an arena. It’s someone on the PA screaming about the shot clock and someone else droning on about AI. The TGL is ersatz golf.
It also seems jinxed.
TGL is a transparent way to keep PGA golfers on side by offering them a new side hustle (while also turning McIlroy and Woods into proper sports capitalists). It’s just as transparently an attempt to eat LIV Golf’s lunch.
A bunch of big names have been lined up for this lark. Why wouldn’t they? You’re being paid to practise.
World No. 3 Jon Rahm was on the roster until he pulled out a couple of weeks ago. Quitting politicians blame their families, and quitting athletes blame their schedules. I’ve yet to meet anyone who was too busy to make lots of money, but if Rahm says it, it must be true.
Rahm’s withdrawal created the suspicion that he will soon decamp for LIV (yes, that’s still happening) and didn’t want to be stuck on a team with a bunch of former friends when he did. He denies it, but not very hard.
McIlroy said he is “pretty confident” Rahm is a PGA loyalist. So I’m convinced.
TGL – whatever it is exactly – is slated to begin on Jan. 9 and turn over each week like any other league. There will be teams and points and money and yelling. Golf was our last refuge from yelling in sports, but I think that’s also going the way of the dodo.
On Wednesday, the roof at TGL’s Florida-based site collapsed. The power went out and the thing deflated.
TGL told Reuters it is too early to say if this will affect its launch.
The power went out? It deflated? This is Florida. Brownouts are as predictable a hazard as gators.
How did you not have a backup generator for your multimillion-dollar bubble house? One thing you would have expected a non-operational, technology-based golf league to have is a whole bunch of IT guys who have nothing better to do than hang around Home Depot, but I guess not.
But TV contracts have been signed so a-virtual-golfing we will go.
Maybe this will be the greatest live indoor TV spectacle since American Gladiator, but I doubt it. Just because people play golf video games does not mean they want to watch golf as a video game.
Maybe it’s that the thought of TGL as a success is too depressing. If simulator golf can make a go of it, what’s next? Batting cage baseball? The MSHL (Morning Skate Hockey League)? Why not take us into an NFL weight room for six hours a day to watch O-linemen pop blood vessels?
(Now that I say it, I’m wondering why someone hasn’t pitched that last one. It would be a guaranteed hit with gym-bro set.)
It is already apparent how sports as a cultural monolith collapses – under its own weight. Some day – and it may not be for a long time – the thing is going to grow so grotesquely large that the head of it will snap off and crush the rest.
In the interim, sports has burst its natural boundaries. It is no longer a physical contest attended by spectators. It’s a business story, and a culture story, and an influencer/brand platform, and a political gladiator pit, all of it in relentless expansion. ‘Player scores 50′ doesn’t move the dial any more. ‘Player transgresses societal norms’ is a better way to grab audience share.
Sports superseded Hollywood because its stars have limited shelf life. Ten years or so and then they’re replaced. But even that process has begun to break down. Now no one leaves.
Since Woods’s fall, golf had lost most of its heat. It’s back now, spurred by dumb money and the gold rush that’s followed. Everyone’s trying to stake their claim.
The point isn’t creating something new and useful. It’s grabbing as much as you can for yourself. It’s cramming that last empty airwave with live programming.
Maybe TGL will succeed where others have struggled. But not if the only way you can explain it to a friend is ‘sort of like real golf, but less so.’