Since the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered sports leagues across the globe nearly two months ago, fans—and advertisers—have been desperate for the return of live sports. That’s why Turner Sports is turning to golf legends Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, plus NFL stars Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, to fill the void.
That quartet will compete in a live golf tournament, The Match: Champions for Charity, airing Sunday, May 24 at 3 p.m. ET on WarnerMedia cable networks TNT, TBS, truTV and HLN. It’s one of a few live sporting events planned for this month—including Nascar races on Fox and FS1—as the rest of the sports world has come to a near-standstill.
As proof of the pent-up advertiser demand for live sports events, WarnerMedia sold out the tournament a month in advance, with Capital One once again serving as the title sponsor and Audi of America, Michelob Ultra and Progressive signing on as presenting partners.
The golf competition, which pits Woods and Manning against Mickelson and Brady, was initially conceptualized as a rematch between Woods and Mickelson, who faced off in November 2018 as part of a pay-per-view golf tournament held at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas.
As with most things planned prior to the pandemic though, the event will now look a lot different. Instead of winner-take-all prize, the players will raise money for charitable organizations dedicated to alleviating Covid-19-related hardship.
“A couple weeks after the pandemic hit, we realized that if we were going to shoot to do this around Memorial Day, that it had to be about charity,” said Jon Diament, Turner Sports evp and chief revenue officer.
WarnerMedia and the four athletes will collectively donate $10 million to benefit Covid-19 relief, and the competition will feature a partnership with the All In Challenge, which aims to alleviate food insecurity, along with additional charity donations throughout the broadcast based on on-course challenges.
The matchup, which will be held at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla., will be free for anyone with a cable subscription. The company initially considered a pay-per-view tournament like the prior match, which infamously suffered some technical difficulties around payment, but opted against charging for it due both to the ongoing economic effects of the pandemic and the new aim of raising money for charitable organizations.
“Because of people losing their jobs, we didn’t think it was appropriate for this to continue to be a pay-per-view event and ask people to pay out-of-pocket,” Diament said. “So we put it on television instead for free.”
Turner Sports shifted the messaging around the match-up in a little over a months’ time to reflect newly crafted charity elements throughout the broadcast on and off the course. Due to government restrictions and efforts to keep players and crew members safe, the tournament itself will look different from a pre-pandemic contests. There will be no spectators, nor will the players have caddies.
Special guests and other interviews throughout the broadcast will appear via live two-way interviews. The four athletes will wear open mics throughout the broadcast in order to communicate with each other and with hosts, who will provide commentary remotely.
Lining up advertisers
Turner Sports is hopeful The Match will attract lots of eyeballs, and so are its advertising partners. The broadcaster is using the partially remote production to feature some unique on-air sponsorship opportunities.
Cisco has signed on as a content integration partner, and Turner Sports will use the videoconferencing application Webex to bring remote guests to the screen during the telecast, said Will Funk, Turner Sports’ evp, sports partnerships and branded content. DraftKings, another content integration partner, will provide betting odds on challenges and stunts on different holes throughout the course, all of which feature a charitable payout.
AT&T, HBO Max, Callaway, Wheels Up and E-Z-GO will also be featured throughout the broadcast as associate sponsors. All sponsors will be worked into the charitable giving that will be at the center of the tournament.
“We have to be innovative, and some of these innovations will likely be things that we carry into the future,” Funk said. “It’s a great opportunity to test some things that we’ve never done before.”
The tournament will get an “all-hands-on-deck” promotion across the company, said Funk, and while the telecast is sold out, Turner Sports is still selling digital and social packages available on Bleacher Report, House of Highlights and Xandr.
The event features a broader-than-usual array of sponsors for a golf tournament, Diament said, reflecting the goal of producing an attractive broadcast for sports fans of all stripes. “We think we’re going to reach a lot of casual sports fans, not just hardcore golf fans,” Diament said.
The broadcast will serve other promotional efforts, too. The Match: Champions for Charity will debut just three days before the anticipated premiere of WarnerMedia streaming service HBO Max. In true synergistic style, promotions for the upcoming service will be featured throughout the broadcast.