Golf has always been a difficult sport to broadcast. Let’s face it, there is not the constant action of a basketball game or the hard hits of a football game. It is a paced experience played out over four hours and eighteen holes. As a tournament progresses, especially on Sunday, competitors could come from numerous different pairings and be located on different holes throughout the course. Keeping track of the plot and conveying the story is the primary job of the network broadcasting the event. Over the last few years, there has been growing backlash for the lackluster golf coverage that has seem to become common, especially on CBS. This year, through the first four events of the CBS schedule, the backlash has grown louder. Earlier this week, on a No Laying Up Podcast, the curtain was pulled further back by former CBS commentator Peter Kostis.
Kostis more or less confirmed the notion that the production value of the broadcast is not a priority of the Tour and that this ultimately comes down to money. Obviously, there are certain obligations that broadcast partners have to the Tour and sponsors. The commercials, constant mentions of FedEX, sponsor interviews are just part of the deal. However, it is up to the network to tie all of that into a broadcast that is attractive and draws viewers despite these interruptions. Kostis confirmed that money is the primary handicap for CBS. I am sure that applies across the board. The fact is, cameras, cameraman, and analysts cost money. They are the necessary components to a show but they are not free. In an interesting part of the NLU interview, Kostis mentioned that during some weeks CBS used prerecorded videos when breaking down a player’s swing as they did not always have the right camera on site to do so. To me that is stunning, but I guess if there are hard budgetary numbers, sacrifices had to made.
What is so disappointing to hear, from my perspective, is the fact that Tour does not really care about the overall quality of the broadcast. Given how the telecasts have deteriorated over the years, this comes as no surprise. Surely if the Tour cared they would have taken some action a long time ago. Watching the coverage this last weekend was so disappointing. One of the most iconic venues, a great leaderboard, and perfect conditions made for what should have been a compelling telecast. Instead, their was not continuity, golf shots were missed, analysts tripped over one another and entire storylines were passed over. It was a rough couple of hours. The poor broadcast, the Kostis interview, and the social media backlash should get the Tour’s attention. The real question is whether or not it matters. According to Kostis, it might not.
While it may take a while for all of this to sort itself out, I am glad that it is in the spotlight. Network executives would be foolish not to pay attention to the social media firestorm that the NLU interview created. The viewing public wants to consume golf tournament coverage differently. The status quo is starting to wear thin and the complaints are growing more numerous and are getting louder. Currently, since the consumer has no other option to watch golf, it is naïve to think anything will happen immediately. However, if a network can figure out how to differentiate itself, there is an opportunity. I remember not being overly enamored with Fox when they first broadcast the US Open. Now I think they may be the best in the business. Change may take time and be uncomfortable, but ultimately it can be a good thing. Let’s hope the Tour is open to change.