The Pellucid Perspective - January 2016 - (Page 15)

THE LAST WORD Braving the third party tee time wilderness A s the new year dawns, one issue facing the golf industry will continue to be found in the "hot button" category. As course operators continue to battle the golf course supply/golfer demand curve and find ways to profitably fill available tee times, the productive use of third party online tee time marketing partners remains a source of frustration and confusion. The NGCOA and PGA of America have launched a stab at creating some rules on that contentious battlefield with their Golf USA Tee Time Coalition which, while not having enforcement power, may at least be able to show owners and operators which third party tee time marketers are playing by the "rules" and which aren't. At that point, operators may still opt to do business with those who didn't make the compliance list, but at least they'll know what they're in for, and perhaps have some points for discussion to improve their deal. Fairly or not, the company who almost invariably comes first to mind in these discussions is GolfNow. The industry Goliath has attracted the vast majority of slings and arrows directed at third party tee time marketers, but has continued to charge ahead in search of not only more customer courses and their golfers, but various other ways to, depending upon your point of view, expand either their relationships or their infiltration into the technological and operational aspects of customer courses. Part of the reason that course operators are so frustrated and confused by their dealings with third party marketers is that there are no standard guidelines, which of course is what the NGCOA and PGA are trying to establish. The deal that course owner "A" receives may be significantly different than the one that course owner "B" down the street is offered. The big multi-course operators get a substantially different deal than the sole proprietor with one course receives in most cases. Busy, high profile courses may get a deal that differs markedly from the course across town that's scuffling to do 15,000 rounds a year. Granted, a "volume discount" is a common practice in most vendor/customer dealings, but that doesn't make it any easier for the course owner to evaluate the deal he or she is being offered by an online tee time marketer. One thing that operators dealing with GolfNow and perhaps a few others should be crystal clear on is that you, Mr. or Ms. Operator, are not their customer, your golfers are. No matter how loudly they proclaim their commitment to being your "partner," your course is a revenue stream for them, and more importantly, so are your customers, whom they would dearly love to convert to GolfNow customers. That, in case it hadn't occurred to you, means that those customers will now be on the receiving end of pitches to play your competitors' courses, often at those smoking "Hot Deals" barter prices. And as more motivation for those companies to convert your customers to theirs, many have a transaction fee attached to every round booked through their site. The next time you see a press release or marketing pitch trumpeting the number of rounds booked through a company's site, there's a good chance you can multiply that number by 2 and add a dollar sign, for essentially doing nothing but maintaining the web site and convincing an attractive number of courses to post their available times there. A friend recently sent me a GolfNow promotional flyer announcing a $10 rewards deal for golfers who booked either 10 regular rounds through GolfNow or 5 "Hot Deals" rounds. The example that the good folks at GN attached showing how it works was a golfer who booked 2 foursomes, all at the "Hot Deals" rate, thus meeting (exceeding by 3, actually) the 5 "Hot Deals" minimum booking and earning the $10 reward. I should point out that my friend showed the flyer to several course operators, and none of them were entirely certain what it meant. My assumption is that the choice of 8 rounds was a convenience, since few golfers would be able to book a fivesome, and that the 3 additional "Hot Deals" rounds were simply "breakage" and disappeared. Regardless of whether that is the case, or if the extra 3 rounds go in a "bank" toward the time a golfer books another 2 rounds or more to reach 5 again, the critical message for an operator is that GolfNow is providing an extra incentive for your customer to book the "Hot Deals" rounds. And, oh by the way, "Hot Deals" rounds are the barter times that GolfNow has from you, so guess who keeps that money? So, if you were in doubt about who GolfNow's customer is, a promotion like that one should be all the proof you need that it's the golfer, not you. This is not to say that operators should ignore the pitches of the various 3rd party tee time marketers who have been or will be knocking on their door, including GolfNow. There is no doubt that they all offer some value in helping you fill your tee sheet; the hard part is figuring out whether (a.) the times generated by them are worth more to you than you're giving away in barter times or the risk of losing control of your rate integrity or customer database or (b.) whether those times are times that you would or could have sold anyway through your own web site or over the phone. Pellucid has contended for some time that many if not most operators could generate a significant amount of those rounds on their own with more and better marketing to their established customer base and market area. The reality, apparently, is that many operators feel they have neither the staff nor the marketing savvy to move those hard to sell times, and are willing to risk some collateral damage to have a third party company help them do it. The other factor, of course, when it comes to the barter system of payment is that operators don't have to write a check to their third party marketing "partner." So, operators, weigh your options and as the kindly old Sarge on NYPD Blue used to say as his officers left the roll call room, "Be careful out there." -Jim Dunlap The Pellucid PersPecTive 15

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Pellucid Perspective - January 2016

2015 industry tale of the tape: What will the numbers tell us?
Uneven lies in search of a level playing field
Courses denied tax deduction for conservation easements
One-year anniversary of revolutionary course management technology product
December golf weather impact: Near-record for much of Northern US!
Chicago: Bull-ish on supply, Bear-ish on demand
Braving the third party tee time wilderness

The Pellucid Perspective - January 2016