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Tiger vs. Phil pay-per-view charade in Las Vegas takes a gamble on technology

Tiger vs. Phil pay-per-view charade in Las Vegas takes a gamble on technology
Phil Mickelson, right, and Tiger Woods record a promotional spot for their head-to-head match. (Harry How / Getty Images for The Match)

It’s a shame that Friday’s pay-per-view Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson twosome around a private Las Vegas country club has all the makings of a sham. In so much elegant prose, the media has largely decided that it’s a con job, unworthy of coverage.

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“Is any publicity good publicity?” Craig Barry asked not so rhetorically.

As chief content officer and primary golf producer for Turner Sports, Barry is invested as much as anyone in measurable success for what is simply called “The Match.”

Launching at noon on Black Friday, there is no great deal to be had here. Even with a credit card company buying title sponsorship, there is an insulting $19.99 PPV ask — so maybe use a new card to swipe for access.

“We had some conversations about that internally,” Barry said. “There is a lot of speculation. Whenever you try something new, you can expect that. I think we’re confident in the sum of all the parts and we love the all-in mentality of Tiger and Phil to say they’ll create something memorable and special.”

Ah, remember how special it was about a year ago when some 4.3 million in North American and 6.7 million worldwide willingly coughed up about $90 apiece to witness the fiasco of Conor McGregor dancing around a ring with Floyd Mayweather? “The Money Fight” allowed Mayweather to record the single largest payday in the history of sports, $275 million.

And long before that, in the mid-1980s, there was the “The Skins Game” out in the desert, always this time of year, starting with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson, with Vin Scully’s narration. Before it ran its course, Woods and Mickelson even joined in. The stakes back then rose to as much as $1 million.

For Tiger vs. Phil, there’s a winner-take-all $9 million — more than the winning shares of this year’s four majors combined — but it’s not coming out of either player’s bankroll.

Ultimately, it’s up to the viewer whether there is upside to this. It can provide lateral hazard relief from joining the rest of the family on a shopping safari. Consider the therapeutic value in bonding at home with left-behind relatives and leftover turkey as odds pop on the screen with percentage probabilities. Go ahead, make a bet. More stats will report how the MGM sports book profited from its live props.

In addition to the Virtual Eye and Shot Tracer graphics, there is a promise of live cursing from billionaire “rivals” wearing hot mikes, with drones buzzing overhead hoping not to get swatted.

That’s the media experimental lab element that attracted Turner Sports to be co-enablers, bringing in properties such as Bleacher Report (online video streaming at B/R Live), HBO (which tarnished its “24/7” series reputation by producing a show on this) and TNT (it does a replay Dec. 8). They’ve added an 11 a.m. pre-match show with Ernie Johnson’s reputation on line refereeing banter from Charles Barkley and Samuel L. Jackson.

AT&T U-verse/DirecTV also got a slice offering 4K coverage at $29.99.

Consider how Vince McMahon’s XFL mess years ago ultimately showed the NFL how to add miked-up players, run overhead cameras on cables and bring in other avant-garde graphic elements to upgrade the viewing experience. Maybe this becomes a blueprint for how Fox (in particular) or CBS, NBC or Golf Channel (reluctantly) pitch the PGA on covering its sport going forward — especially as networks will be asked to incorporate opportunities for the booming business of legalized sports gambling.

There are also lessons learned from pay-per-view boxing and MMA, and the psychology of what drives anyone to pay for access to something considered momentous or significant.

“If you use the boxing analogy, one of the key takeaways is that if a fight is fantastic, no one cares how much money was made, you’re only talking about the competitive match,” said Barry, who oversees Turner’s coverage of the PGA Championship and, in the past, did the four-player Grand Slam of Golf made-for-TV event.

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“This is a fantastic opportunity to leverage all this new technology. Over the last couple decades we have thought about ways to innovate golf. Once in a while, a door will open and all those creative things can be finally tried out.

“Here is a chance to straddle the line of sports and pop culture, but it has to be authentic and diverse and experimental. This checks all those boxes.”

As it does for Woods and Mickelson. As long as the checks roll into their in-boxes and someone demands a rematch.

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