THE AZNAVORIAN BACKGROUNDER —
Dave Aznavorian joined the USGA in February 2014 as Senior Director, Marketing, and oversees brand management, demand generation, and integrated marketing for the leading sports association dedicated to the health and growth of the game of golf. The USGA annually conducts the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open – along with 12 amateur championships – collectively drawing a worldwide broadcast and digital viewing audience of more than 20 million from 160 countries.
Prior to the USGA, Aznavorian was Vice President, Global Marketing for Earth Brands, a socially-responsible footwear and apparel company with distribution that included Amazon, Walmart and QVC. Leading up to the company’s sale in 2013, Aznavorian directed global marketing teams in the U.S., Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, and oversaw an integrated network of agency partnerships.
Aznavorian’s formative career was shaped by experiences in Global Brand Management at outdoor / recreation industry leader, Timberland, and Titleist and FootJoy Worldwide. At Titleist, Dave first served as Manager, Strategic Planning & Analysis prior to leading Marketing Communications for the then newly-acquired, Cobra Golf brand.
A graduate of Dartmouth College, Aznavorian co-captained the Division I Golf team, and later earned his MBA from the University of Michigan. Dave has been a featured speaker on sports business at Harvard Business School and Boston University, and currently chairs the Board at Bay State College, and is also a former Trustee at Noble & Greenough School.
THE AZNAVORIAN STORY —
Growing up, my heroes were Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and George Scott. A loyal Bostonian and Red Sox fan, golf wasn’t remotely on my radar.
At 13, my dad suggested I take a week of $50 golf lessons at a local municipal golf course. That was the inflection point that led me to the golf industry. Once I figured out golf was equal parts power, finesse, will power, and smarts, I was hooked.
Volunteering at the 1988 U.S. Open at The Country Club solidified my interest, and, after college — once my competitive golf mojo had run out — I was fortunate to get my foot in the door at Titleist which led me to the USGA.
What was the genesis for the PLAY9 program?
We live in a time-starved, digital world. PLAY9 was initiated to let golfers and non-golfers know it’s great to get outside and play golf, and it’s possible to play in less time.
In years past the USGA had only been involved in conducting national championships and administering the game in certain well-established and defined areas. What prompted the Association to take a more active role in promoting the sport?
Everything the USGA does – from championships that inspire, to governance that operates as a “code” for the game – is about promoting the health and growth of golf. A lot of the USGA’s work happens with golf facilities, and with state / regional golf associations responsible for administering the game at a local and regional level. What’s great about PLAY9 is that it rallies everyone behind shared goals.
What specific steps are you doing in order to attract golf course owners to the program?
MCOs (multi-course operators) are big fans of PLAY9. They know trial leads to conversion, and conversion leads to retention. It’s important we’re opening up golf. We hold an annual Golf Innovation Symposium at which time we share PLAY9 data to help multi-course owners and operators learn more about the program. Our PLAY9 microsite also has downloadable visual assets to help golf facilities easily promote the program (http://www.usga.org/content/usga/home-page/play-9.html).
How much of a financial effort is the USGA putting forward to getting the effort going at full speed?
Exacting a dollar value is hard. As a movement, supporting PLAY9 is largely media-driven, and translating media impressions to dollars is only a best guess. We support PLAY9 monthly across the USGA’s owned, earned and paid media assets. From May to September, we run dedicated PLAY9 days across the country. It’s proving to be a great formula for building buzz and drumming up interest.
Have any major golf companies gotten involved thus far — ditto on the corporate side?
We’re fortunate to have great corporate support from our partners. Deloitte has adopted PLAY9 as a way to rally their associates together, and are promoting it to encourage work-life balance, and build cross-organization camaraderie. Pulling in a golf manufacturer will always be a little tricky given our role to assess equipment, and its conformity to golf’s Rules. We’re fortunate to have widespread support for PLAY9 from allied, corporate and media partners.
What kind of messaging is being created to successfully reach people under 35, women and minorities?
The great thing about PLAY9 is the message is universal and embraceable – who doesn’t want to play golf in less time? We’ve noticed a lot of newcomers being drawn to golf through the program. It’s a bit less time, it’s a bit less costly, and it’s a bit less intimidating – all good things for anyone seeking introduction to the game.
Are there any plans to enlist professional golfers in promoting the efforts? Years back the USGA was able to secure the involvement of Arnold Palmer when the Associates program was launched.
Professional and amateur golfers, many of whom are USGA champions, are key “voices” for the USGA. They’re central to our championships being looked upon as platforms of inspiration. Our USGA amateur champions have been great about coming out to participate in PLAY9 Days. Michelle Wie, our 2014 U.S. Women’s Open Champion, is probably the most vocal supporter of PLAY9. Where we believe the connection to be authentic, we’ll selectively catalyze influencer advocacy over time.
What specific efforts are being made to reach out to schools — whether public or private — to get active with the sport?
The USGA is fortunate to have great relationships with longstanding player development programs in golf – The First Tee, the Drive, Chip and Putt program, and LPGA*USGA Girls Golf. Each of these USGA-supported programs are dialed into their regional and local school systems. The World Golf Foundation, another Allied Partner of the USGA, has also done a great job at messaging the merits of golf early on in life. Few sports combine the exercise, the thinking on your feet, the social connection, and the values, that golf espouses. We’re helping schools connect these important dots.
How will actions taken be measured to indicate if success is indeed happening?
PLAY9 is fortunate to benefit from the USGA’s GHIN system which – for those with a USGA Handicap – keeps track of annual rounds played. Right now, nine-hole golf makes up about 33% of all rounds played in the GHIN system, and nine-hole entered scores have increased between 6-8% over the past 7 years. Perception of PLAY9 is also important. Through our USGA Brand Health Tracker, we’re seeing that the USGA’s support of PLAY9 is helping golf to be seen as more welcoming.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
I wouldn’t change golf at all. I’d just give everyone more time to play.