Golf's uptight image remains intact with a ban on social media during the Ryder Cup

By Michael Carney , written on September 2, 2014

From The News Desk

The powers that be in the game of golf today proved that the sport deserves every ounce of its reputation as outdated, uptight, and boring. (And I say that as a lifelong golfer and lover of the game.)

Just weeks ahead of the biennial Ryder Cup competition, which this year will pit teams from the US and Europe against one another at Gleneagles in Scotland, the PGA of America and the PGA European Tour have elected to ban both fans and players from publishing photos from the event to social media, according to a report in the Guardian today. The British newspaper writes:

The rules also state: “Images taken with a camera, mobile phone or other electronic device cannot be used for any purpose other than for private and domestic purposes. You must not sell, license, publish (including, without limitation, via Twitter or Facebook or any other social media site) or otherwise commercially exploit photographs.”
Be reminded that attendees will have paid upwards of $2,500 (£1,500) to attend the Ryder Cup. And yet, these ticketholders will be prohibited from capturing any audio or video during the event, and still photography will be limited to practice days. Imagine telling fans at an NFL or NBA game that they can’t post selfies from the game to their social media accounts. Never. Gonna. Happen.

It’s customary to prohibit photography during professional golf tournaments, but anyone who’s ever attended one knows that this is a rule that’s ignored entirely. Spectators caught taking photos are generally asked to refrain from doing so, and only after multiple warnings have their cameras or smartphones (temporarily) confiscated. But to place a ban on how those photos are used afterward, including non-commercial use by individual fans on social media, is an unusually extreme approach – and one they'll have a hell of a time enforcing.

It’s not just fans that are prohibited from sharing images from the event, but players as well. That could prove particularly difficult for some participants who have amassed hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Twitter followers, such as US players Rickie Fowler (790k), Bubba Watson (1.25M), and Keegan Bradley (325k), and Europe’s Rory McIlroy (2.1M) Ian Poulter (1.72M) and Lee Westwood (720k)

Recent Ryder Cups on US soil – the event alternates between the host continents – have featured large, boisterous crowds (fueled by free-flowing alcohol) and no such bans on social media. If they had, we might have missed out on awesome moments like these. Scotland, it seems, is taking its roots as the home of golf a bit too seriously and would apparently like the competition to be conducted under 17th century conditions.

But let’s be honest. This is all about greed. The Ryder Cup is one of the biggest money grabs in the sport and the more control organizers can retain over who has access to the images and video from the event – and at what cost – the better for their collective bank accounts. This latest ban comes just a few years after several players threatened to boycott the event unless they were paid to participate, with one even going so far as to compare the arrangement to slavery. Much like the Olympics and college sports, Ryder Cup players aren’t paid for their time and don’t share in the tens of millions in profit that the event generates.

A spokesman for the Ryder Cup Europe offers the Guardian a bullshit explanation for the ban, attempting to pin it on protecting teamwork and camaraderie:

The Ryder Cup is one of the world’s most recognized sporting events and as such we need to ensure that the brand, encompassing fair play, teamwork and camaraderie is protected at all times which means ensuring that images of the event are not used for monetary gain in a manner which may go against those principles.
Proving that the Ryder Cup organizers are intent on keeping the competition more staid than high tea at Buckingham Palace, the rules also prohibit autographs, running, personal mobility scooters, and children under five. Autographs? Most pro golf tournaments are brimming with autograph seekers and the players are typically more than happy to oblige, so long as the request comes at the appropriate time and place. Not so at Gleneagles.

It’s simply because golf has the convenient cover of maintaining its image of gentility and honor, and above all else, silence during each shot, that the game gets away with its already overbearing rules during tournaments. Nevertheless, banning social media is a step too far.

Even worse than delivering a poor fan experience, banning social media is actually a short-sighted strategy that will limit the exposure and thus the marketability of the Ryder Cup itself. It reminds me of a strategy taken by many brands and content creators in the early days of YouTube, when it was commonplace to remove any piece of infringing content and, in select cases, prosecute uploaders. Today, it’s customary to claim and subsequently promote (and often monetize) this infringing content as a means of organic marketing. The Ryder Cup organizers could learn something from this more modern approach.

Social media and smartphone use is a genie that can’t and won’t be put back in the bottle. The sooner relevant decision makers around the world internalize this fact and begin thinking about how to use this now decade-old technology to their advantage the better off we’ll all be. Until then, if you're the kind of person who follows the online maxim, "pics or it didn't happen," it seems the Ryder cup is not for you.

Updated: 9/3/14, 3:40pm: Unsurprisingly, event organizers have backtracked from their ill-advised stance. See Pando's coverage here.

[Image via Wieunderpar]