Nick Bayly, Associate Editor of GBN, talks to Ryan Howsam, founder and chairman of insurance company Staysure, about his investment in professional senior golf in Europe through the Legends Tour and how he hopes to grow the over-50s circuit – and his business – through Pro-Am experiences and celebrity-based events.
How big a role does golf play in your life and how big a factor was your passion for the sport when it came to sponsoring the Legends Tour?
I have always been a very passionate golfer. I played football and golf to a decent level as a teenager. When I was 16, I had the opportunity to become an assistant club professional, but I chose to go out and work and started selling double glazing. I played on and off through the early part of my twenties, but then stopped completely when I was about 26-27, and it was not until I was in my late forties that I really fell back in love with the game. When I started playing competitively again there was a natural synergy between golf and the over-50s’ insurance market and it seemed the right area to target.
So is this a case of mixing business and pleasure?
I only ever got into the Legends Tour as a business opportunity, it was a sponsorship deal over five years, but I could see the synergy of the audience of the Tour with my insurance company, Staysure, and quickly we saw there was a much wider deal there and the icons of the game weren’t really being used in the best way they could. There were lots of commercial assets that could be monetised better, and if you combined the Staysure database with the Legends Tour, there was a lot more value that could be offered to sponsors. So very quickly it went from being a sponsorship discussion to being a much wider strategic move.
What input did you have in changing the name of the Staysure Seniors to the Legends Tour as it is now? And why did you feel that was necessary?
I was very hands on and was looking at it with two hats on: one as the chairman of Staysure and the other from a senior golf perspective. The Staysure brand adds a lot of value and the Legends name came about purely because it really does what it says on the tin – it is icons and legends and we wanted to project that in the brand. We wanted to utilise the ‘Legends’ as a central part of the rebranding.
How much of an influence do you have on the Tour’s operations, including the scheduling of events, choice of venues and attracting sponsors?
I am passionate about the project and like to be involved as much as possible. But my own personal business experience is supported by a brilliant team. We have brought Phil Harrison in as the CEO, but ultimately when we look at the key stakeholders – the players, fans and sponsors – it was crucial that the tour had to go to destinations that offered good, challenging golf courses, but also the kind of place they would want to stay and visit. A lot of these players are travelling with wives and family, and while they are still playing competitively, they want to be playing in a nice place where they feel comfortable experiencing the culture.
Introducing a competitive pro-am element to bigger tournaments seems to be one of the major innovations that you introduced. What was the thinking behind the new Alliance Series and how has it been received by players, sponsors and wider golfing public?
The thinking was that outside the AT&T Pebble Beach and the Dunhill, there was not much of an opportunity to play tournaments with the professionals. We believe golf delivers a rare platform where you can do this with a professional still playing at their best. It is, of course, targeted at high-net-worth individuals and the corporate world, but I think it has been received very well. From year one the reception has been phenomenal.
And the Celebrity Series also adds another element to the whole package…
Yes, that’s right. That was something I was really keen to add and really brings a bit of stardust to the whole event. It has also helped bring new fans to events. Attendance is now made up of the golfing purists out to see the legends of the game compete, while also now attracting a younger and often family audience that wants so see famous faces from the world of sport and media.
Paul McGinley, Thomas Bjorn, Paul Lawrie and Michael Campbell have all signed up as ambassadors for the Legends Tour. How important is it to have those big-name players put their weight behind the tour?
They are legendary players who have achieved so much in the game, and it is so important to have those names on board to help promote the product. They are still seriously good at this game and playing on the Legends Tour is a serious business for them. There is a level of professionalism we want to project and these guys are seasoned winners who want to keep playing competitively. We want those names front and centre, but the Legends Tour is also about creating great stories for other players who did not have that same level of success on the regular tour, like three-time Legends Tour winner Dave Shacklady.
Can you ever envisage some form of alliance between the Legends Tour and the PGA Champions Tour? Perhaps introducing a global series of events that bring players from all over the word outside of the Major Championships?
We are working collaboratively with the PGA Champions Tour and have a good relationship with them and are in discussions about trying to revise some type of senior Ryder Cup. We are not competing with the Champions Tour; it is more about working with them. Our relationship is very good and there is clearly some talk about co-sanctioned events, so you could potentially see more events like that in future.
How do you manage your return on investment in the Legends Tour?
Previously, the tour primarily had local promoters setting up tournaments, and whilst we still encourage that, by going after companies in the over-50s sector – whether that be financial services or auto/cars – we are able to pick larger sponsors who really do get the brand.
Also, at a tournament, predominantly a lot of it is tourism-led and because the Staysure database – our customers – enjoy travelling, we are able to use that and really promote the region. So that gives us income from the tourist board whilst adding real value to that partner.
Also, our ‘pyramid of customer base’ gives us a targeted strategy for selling tickets to events. We want to engage the broader, younger golf fan, and the celebrity series helps bring a whole new audience for general fans.
Then, as you build through the pyramid, we engage high-net-worths who have the budget and time, and want to live the life of a pro through the Alliance Series and become members of our Legends Tour Club – there are only 30 memberships available – which allows players to play in three Alliance events, pro-ams and with weekends away at Finca Cortesin.
Meanwhile, our Partner Status is tailored to bespoke agreements with individuals and companies who want all those experiences that come with the Alliance, but who also may want to take ownership of an event with support, for example, of their chosen charity. So there are many strands to the tour and all these elements and strategies will, I believe, make us a profitable business by 2023.
Where do you play your golf and do you have a favourite course?
In the UK, Wentworth and Beaverbrook are my clubs. Wentworth is my home club and I love the West Course. Beaverbrook is a private members club near Leatherhead in Surrey where the whole environment is something really special. I spend quite a lot of time in southern Spain and Finca Cortesin is my home club when I am based over there. A little bit like Beaverbrook, it has a special feel to it. I absolutely love it there!
How can golf as in industry continue this forward momentum with the boom it is currently enjoying?
We can’t sit still and rest on our laurels. This is a good time to be a golfer and also to work in the golf industry, but we need to look forward so we can continue the momentum. That is why the Legends Tour had to evolve to cater for a market that was younger once and still wants excitement. Golf is not the same game it was 30 years ago; it is more inclusive and we need to keep working at that. Golf clubs have woken up to the fact that to survive they need to welcome the next generation. That is what the Legends Tour is doing by catering for a new market in the over-50s.
This week sees the Legends Tour stage the Jersey Legends at La Moye Golf Club in Jersey. Tickets are on sale now with season tickets costing from £15 with single-day tickets starting at £8. Former major winners Ian Woosnam, Michael Campbell and Paul Lawrie are some of the leading players competing alongside Legends Tour debutants Richard Green, Niclas Fasth and Michael Jonzon. Vernon Kay, Sir AP McCoy, Kyran Bracken and John Terry are set to compete in the first Celebrity Series event of the season on the Thursday. For all the latest news and scores, visit www.legendstour.com.