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May 2019

Are OTTAs Golf’s Disintermediaries?

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By Jay Karen
CEO, NGCOA

 “I don’t believe most golf courses need the OTTAs’ marketing services to meet the natural demand for golf in our marketplace, nor do I think they stimulate incremental demand for golf.”

Wow. Now that I read that a month after the print dried on the last issue of Golf Business, it sounds rather harsh. I think it’s because I’ve become friendly with a couple individuals trying to make a go of it in the Online Tee Time Agency world, despite my skepticism. It’s not the “golf way” to be so public with criticism like this.

Nevertheless, let me see if I can get this straight. We have millions of people interested in playing golf, but who are not moved to do so. The volume of tee times and players have both declined since about the same time OTTAs came on the scene. The price of golf is cheaper than ever (compared to the Consumer Price Index).

Profitability is arguably tougher to achieve than ever. While the golf course economy has been living under black clouds, tens of millions of dollars annually are poured into OTTAs each year. Something is incongruent here. If you look at it from the bird’s eye perspective, how can you not be a skeptic?

Over the last three years, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve encountered a course owner who praised their OTTA. Rather, nearly every time the topic is broached, there are words of frustration, rolling eyes and shaking heads. The fact you can’t even have a conversation about OTTAs without an undercurrent of negativity tells us something is rotten in Denmark. Talk all day long about golf cars, insurance, balls, sticks, apparel, turf equipment, F&B, etc. and it’s all pretty copacetic. Mention OTTAs, and you’ll see the tone go south more quickly than Ohioans converging on Myrtle Beach in April. If these relationships were healthy, this simply would not happen.

A year and a half ago, the CEO of one of the OTTAs (who shall remain nameless) literally jabbed his finger in my chest and said (expletives omitted), “I’m sick and tired of NGCOA being anti-third party.” Let me be crystal clear. I’m not anti-OTTA. I’m just against anything that doesn’t clearly and unequivocally support the success of golf course operators.

If OTTAs want to win my favor or (infinitely more important) the favor of the thousands of courses that also look upon you critically, here’s your simple recipe:

• Stop the incessant discounting. In the race to the bottom, you’re handing out the bibs, the running shoes and you’re manning the Gatorade stations.
• Abdicate your ability to price tee times. Let courses price their inventory against the natural supply and demand without your finger on the scale.
• Implement demand-generating marketing and technology aimed at bringing revenue that wouldn’t have happened without you. Prove to a course owner you’re bringing them new customers and increased play from existing customers. Don’t leave it up to the course to figure it out. 
• Provide rich data on revenue and activity from the bartered tee times, so a course operator has transparency into the value of the relationship.
• Stop using a course’s own brand to market against it in search engines and on your own directories. When an OTTA uses a course’s name in the search engines to direct business to competing courses, how can you not shake your head?

When I started writing this, I was hoping to talk myself into a kinder position. But I’m not there yet. I need to be convinced the net result of all of this is a positive one – for every single course that participates, and for the industry as a whole.
Until then, I ask my readers and NGCOA members – am I being too harsh? I’m a reasonable guy. Tell me what you think.

 

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