What could it mean for the future of the Smallbiz Indoor Golf Industry?
When we first heard about Rory and Tiger’s TGL ‘tech-infused’ golf league in August 2022 we were delighted! As a family-owned indoor golf business in Toronto we were excited about the prospect of the simulated indoor golf scene becoming more mainstream with golf celebrity promotion and influence. Following the November 2nd press release about TWRW Sports and its star-studded array of celebrity backers from all sporting and entertainment backgrounds, we have some curiosity about their longer-term plans. There could be much more beyond the Monday night TGL virtual golf league commencing in January 2024. The shorter-term impact for the existing indoor golf industry could be very positive, but there could also be a longer term sting in the tail.
So, what’s the potential concern with TMRW Sports and TGL for the existing indoor golf industry? There’s currently only one goliath player on the global alternative golf scene – Topgolf. They dominate the golf entertainment driving range scene in many of the countries where golf is popular, especially in the US and the UK where it originated. However, Topgolf has not made major headway into the golf simulator based indoor golf industry. Their Topgolf Swing Suite indoor golf endeavour has been much lower key. In North America, Europe and Australia, the indoor scene has evolved to be mostly single venue small business operations such as ours. This is clear when looking at the indoor golf venues operating in Toronto, New York and Chicago as examples – the most populous snow-climate cities in North America. Some businesses have pursued multi-venue presence in both the US and Canada, but none as yet have a dominating national or continental presence. Such small business growth might have looked like an opportunity to increasingly control the local scene as indoor golfer participation increases, but ultimately that could become a rear-view mirror perspective, depending on TMRW’s longer term plans.
Leisure activity has changed significantly in the last two decades. As evidenced by the closure of many pubs and bars, Gen Y and younger are not going out with the sole purpose of consuming alcohol in the same way as their parents’ generation did. They increasingly seek immersive entertainment experiences, often involving technology, and only sometimes with an alcohol element. Through social media influence in particular, they are celebrity obsessed. These factors may be relevant to TMRW’s plans.
Arguably, the lack of an existing dominant player represents an interesting opportunity for TMRW. With their financial and celebrity firepower they have lots of options, not only in relation to TGL and virtual golf, but also other sports where the technology-based entertainment experience has barely begun. It seems quite possible that TMRW could emerge as the globally recognised big brand of the ‘tech-multi-sport’ customer experience. Individual small businesses would have little chance to compete effectively for public attention with the glitter on offer if such a venue arrives nearby.
We’ve been invested in our single venue indoor golf business since 2018. We made that decision based upon our perception of indoor golf industry opportunities at that time, not as a result of the COVID induced golf boom. Many others have arrived on the scene since and there is now a possibility that, absent of a big TGL fueled boost, it could be oversupplied in many places. Small business FOMO may have played a part. Lack of insight to the simultaneous intentions of others may be another – there are few market signaling mechanisms in the small business world.
If this blog can serve only one purpose, let it be adding to the mix for anyone considering opening a new indoor golf business. It’s hard work, competitive, and the risks to longer business success might be greater than originally perceived. If TMRW Sports and TGL’s ‘tech-infused’ golf show does evolve to a brick and mortar customer product, it will be a little ironic for us. Rory and Tiger are golfing idols for two generations in our household.