USA Today Sports Media Group acquired Golfweek 20 months ago because of its great content and readership of obsessive golf fans.
After working with Golfweek on advertising and content partnerships, the Gannett-owned group saw how much more it could do with Golfweek if it owned the property.
“We thought we could run it much more efficiently and grow revenue and audience,” said Chris Pirrone, GM at USA Today Sports Media Group.
Although golf’s popularity is declining in the US, Golfweek is bucking that trend by growing its audience and revenue post-acquisition.
Readers flocked to Golfweek after it received a digital-first makeover: In the past year, page views grew 115%, unique visitors rose 102% and time spent increased 14%, according to comScore data comparing Q1 2018 with the same period last year.
Once Golfweek became part of the USA Today group, the publication migrated to USA Today’s platform.
“We know how to make sites that mobile, social audiences like to consume and share,” Pirrone said.
The USA Today Sports Media Group runs the golf content across its network, making the Golfweek site a hub for golf coverage. For events where Golfweek leads in coverage, such as the PGA Tour or college golf, Golfweek’s content shows up in Gannett’s 109 local newspapers and digital-only brands, including social sports site For The Win.
Golfweek expanded from its magazine roots and prioritized online articles, including content that couldn’t be found anywhere else on the web. Being the authority for in-depth golf information means the publication’s top two traffic sources are readers who visit directly or via search engines.
A popular column, “The Forecaddie,” which offers inside information such as players changing golf clubs or agents, now draws readers online with a digital version. Not many publications cover college golf, but Golfweek sent four writers to Oklahoma to cover the NCAA golf finals.
“You won’t see that [depth of coverage] anywhere else,” said Pat Leahy, associate publisher of Golfweek.
The content changes “really spiked traffic,” he added. Plus, the unique content Golfweek creates means other publications reference it.
“We have gotten a lot of pickups from MSN and Bleacher [Report] lately, and that’s been a big traffic mover,” making it less reliant on Facebook to drive traffic, Leahy said.
Golfweek’s in-depth coverage of college golf serves another purpose: attracting the next generation of golfers to the site as the sport’s players age and overall popularity dips.
“The challenge was not only transitioning golf audiences, which tend to fall on the older side, from print to digital, but bringing in a new audience that’s younger,” Leahy said. “That’s where we are seeing success with finding a younger, mobile and social audience.”
On the advertising side, Golfweek reaches more than half of people who golf at least once a month in the US – 5.2 million out of 8.6 million golfers, Leahy said, using comScore figures from April. Golfweek’s advertisers can buy space on the flagship side and on golf-related content across the sports group, upping the reach they can get against the niche golfer audience.
After USA Today Sports Media Group’s efforts to turn around the business, endemic advertisers such as golf club and shoe companies returned. Many had fled from advertising in golf magazines altogether in favor of mediums such as search and social advertising.
“Most of those companies had gone elsewhere because they had a ton of options where they could spend their money,” Leahy said. “We have brought back the equipment companies because they are seeing the engagement, the clicks to their sites and people buying their shoes.”
Plus, Avis, MasterCard, Citi, Honda and other brands flocked to the revamped Golfweek, interested in accessing the sport’s affluent readers.
By acquiring Golfweek and turning it around a year and a half ago, the media group got a head start in reorienting itself amid the changes rocking golf publications. Meredith sold Golf Magazine in April, months after Time Inc. announced it was for sale. Conde Nast operates Golf Digest and recently tried to revamp the magazine with a subscription product featuring instructional content.
“There is a lot of transition going on right now, and we are stable relative to the competitive set,” Pirrone said. “Advertisers are waiting to see what will happen.”