The Crowdless Match

“Pretty good putt considering the crowd noise I had to deal with.” These were the words Peyton Manning muttered in his patented dry humor to golf partner Tiger Woods. Manning and Woods were paired up together in a charity golf event billed as The Match II at Medalist Golf Club, Florida on Sunday. Their opponents were Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson.

While the event was a coronavirus-era darling attracting the largest cable golf viewership in history, Manning’s joke at the end of the first hole perfectly summed up the challenges facing live events today.

These challenges of social distancing and events were on full display. Rain during much of the event unfortunately reduced the quality of the broadcast somewhat. Production of the event included limited support staff throughout the course including cameras. The majority of the support staff kept their distance and wore masks.

The game itself looked a little different. The players did not use caddies and instead cruised around in high-class golf carts. Contact was kept at a minimum with fist bumps and high fives transformed into forearm bumps. It took awhile to fully get used to watching. There was even a moment when Brady and Mickelson went for a high five and paused to hold it back. I was legitimately confused wondering what they were doing for a split second before I snapped back to our current reality.

Was The Match amazing? No. But was it interesting? Well sure, especially given the circumstances and for a sports starved society. The marquee names and old rivalries helped as well.

There were also some lessons learned from the event. Even when live sports are back, I support some of the following to be used more:

1. Mic’d up athletes and performers: We need more of this. The good-natured joking and inside insights were cool experiences. There are obviously issues such as with trash talking that could cross the line, but improving the in game experience would be welcomed by fans.

2. Twitter and social media popups: Other athletes and celebrities chimed in during The Match with their tweets being shown periodically on screen. This again enhances engagement.

3. More Charles Barkley: All sporting events should have Barkley mic’d up with the ability to directly heckle the competitors. There is no one better and more entertaining. The man is a true commentary gold mine.

4. More events that create opportunities for Brady to lose more.

Again, while not perfect, The Match was a greatly welcomed event for fans. I look forward to more solutions like it. Not only for televised events, but once live events are back there will be a ripe opportunity for ingenuity and creative changes. While there are sure to be some tough changes due to social distancing at first, hopefully we also take the opportunity to make some changes for the better. And can someone find Brady some better pants please?