Reaching out to the average golfer

Hartford

The symbolism runs like a current through your senses, illustrating the possibilities. It's the view. Oh, the view, from the company's vivid, no-cubicles-allowed offices, high atop the city, full of hope and wonder.

It's a view atop Hartford, the hamlet where so many feign interest, but rarely deliver. It connects the everyday realism below with the blue sky above, perhaps enticing Jamie Bosworth one day to pull a DiCaprio in "Titanic" - open a window and proclaim he's king of the world.

This just in: Don't bet against him.

And what better way to celebrate today, the state's Golf Industry Day, than getting to know him?

Bosworth is the owner of an idea, big like his view, that just might change the way we watch golf. It aims to humanize the game. Not with gadgetry enhancing its X's and O's, but altering the rhythms of the game's perceptions.

Bosworth's idea is called the Back 9 Network, coming to a cable/satellite system near you soon. It's golf for people who like to have fun, buy cool things and laugh, taking aim at the game's negative perceptions — out-of-touch rich people married to arcane rules — and throwing them down a flight of stairs.

Bosworth, the company's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, doesn't come to work wearing Armani, maybe the best illustration of his vision. A cool guy. A regular guy, too, once the cart cleaner at Pebble Beach, and later its assistant pro.

Bosworth eventually became the Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Product Development for Callaway Golf. And that's where the potential of Back 9 became a steadier beat in Bosworth's mind. There were many messages to be conveyed through traditional means: Golf Digest, Golf World, the Golf Channel. But was the true target audience paying attention?

"We always felt like the average golfer, the guy in Michigan, the fireman in Ohio, didn't read Golf Week," Bosworth was saying recently from his office, where bright sun meets brighter ideas. "We thought the current media was addressing that same top 15 percent over and over and not really getting to the people who love the game just to socialize and have fun.

"We were left with hoping the information trickled down from club champions and serious golfers to aspirational golfers," he said. "So we thought, 'is there another way to do it?'"

Bosworth approached the Golf Channel with ideas for original programming, figuring he'd get a "yes" faster than Iverson got from foul line to foul line. Instead, the Golf Channel told him its programming cup had runneth over.

Bosworth admitted he didn't know enough about the specifics to understand why he was spurned. What he learned floored him.

"At the time (roughly four years ago) Golf Channel was doing $450 million in revenue and worth over two billion," he said. "It had zero competition and the second highest CPM rate (a way to configure advertising rates) on all of cable behind to ESPN. And it had some of the lowest ratings."

Golf Channel's average nightly viewership is one half of one percent, or roughly 130,000 viewers, Bosworth said.

"It's an entity which, I believe, speaks to 15 percent of the market and is worth two billion," Bosworth said. "What if we address the other 85 percent with some really cool stuff?"

This is the two-minute drill version of "cool stuff:" A tour wives show that Bosworth called "insane." Bosworth said if they can make "Duck Dynasty" a hit on the History Channel based on the concept of duck calls, he's sure he can find cool people making cool things with tentacles to golf. There's a "Ball Hogs" show, too, that features people diving into lakes to reclaim golf balls, dodging alligators.

All the shows have natural windows for product placement and messaging in creative, interactive ways. As company president (and Boston College graduate) Carlos Silva says, "people think golf is the whole story. It's the amenity. People who like golf like cool things."

More Silva: "You've got a guy who makes $72,000 a year and plays a muni (municipal course) in Poolsville, Md. His aspiration is a new Camaro Z-28. And his Saturday is a round and hanging out with his buddies having a bacon cheeseburger. That's the same guy who belongs to Congressional that pulls up in a Bentley and is going to Morton's that night. It's the same guy. One makes a million, the other makes 72. But they still talk (junk), they are still aspirational and they think their husband or wife is still a pain in the (rear)."

Bosworth and his staff conducted months and months of research and interviews with television intelligentsia to form their plan. Then came the money. Bosworth, who had been doing some consulting for Fortune 500 companies in the sports marketing field, was living in Simsbury. Hence, this became a Hartford story.

"We met some local people and I don't want to speak for them, but I think they were more excited that someone was excited about Hartford than the idea itself," he said. "I think they just wanted to support something exciting. It felt like nothing exciting happened here in a long time."

One of Bosworth's first advocates was Paul Pendergast, UConn's former athletic director and fundraiser extraordinaire. Pendergast, an initial investor, is now part of the company.

"I stopped Jamie's presentation after 15 minutes," Pendergast said. "I said, 'I get it, I'm in.'"

They have raised more than $17 million. Bosworth said Back 9 would launch most likely around Jan. 1, 2014.

"We're the sports media capital of the world. There should be many small media companies here taking advantage of the human capital at ESPN," Bosworth said. "It's the ideal place to launch. People need to stop leaving Hartford and figure out ways to build things."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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