TV Blog: LPGA shift to ABC good for business, bad for viewers

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TV Blog: LPGA shift to ABC good for business, bad for viewers

Golf

TV Blog: LPGA shift to ABC good for business, bad for viewers

Imagine what goes into producing a Broadway play. You spend months culling together the financing, assembling the sets, hiring and auditioning the cast and rehearsing. Then you get to opening night and the producer says, “Bring in the understudies!”

That’s kind of what happens on the LPGA. A Tony-worthy LPGA crew spends the entire season telling that tour’s story to a modest but loyal viewer base on Golf Channel. Then on the final day of the season, the culmination of its season-long competition, coverage of the CME Group Tour Championship shifts to ABC for the first time all season.

The upside of this switch is that it demonstrates the LPGA has a motivated sponsor in CME Group, which bought the time on ABC. The LPGA could use, and certainly deserves, more sponsors who make that commitment.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan has talked about his desire to get his tour on network TV regularly. Perhaps these small steps eventually will help the LPGA accomplish that.

The downside is that a new crew of announcers is brought in to replace the Golf Channel team, which does a terrific job covering the LPGA on a weekly basis. As a viewer, I watch a lot of LPGA coverage because I enjoy it. By contrast, I often feel my main motivation for watching the PGA Tour is that it’s in my job description.

The LPGA crew has developed a nice chemistry. Yet on the season’s final day, at one of the biggest events of the year, they’re sent home, having been replaced by an ABC crew. It’s basically ESPN’s old British Open crew – Andy North, Curtis Strange, Bill Kratzert – along with holdover Judy Rankin.

You know they’ll do a reasonable job, but they don’t have the knowledge that comes with covering the tour on a weekly basis. So they’ll talk about how much they admire Jessica Korda’s swing and ball flight, as they did Sunday, but they won’t be able to talk about what she’s been working on because they haven’t been following her week after week.

As a business decision, the LPGA’s switch to ABC makes sense. But as a viewer, it leaves me cold.

Here are a few other thoughts on the weekend’s coverage:

  • 8 The DP World Tour Championship felt a bit sterile, probably because there didn’t seem to be many fans on the course other than those waiting at the 18th hole. Still, we saw some terrific technology that enhanced the coverage. The putting graphic, with one line showing the lag speed and the other showing the firm speed, is outstanding. Tyrrell Hatton thought he had missed his putt on No. 2, but it rolled right between the two lines into the center of the cup. The green-shading technology, used to illustrate green contours, also is helpful. I first saw it in December 2014, when Fox Sports tested it. We’ve rarely seen it since, but it really helps viewers understand the slopes of the greens.
  • Two hours into Sunday’s LPGA coverage, anchor Dave Flemming said, “We do thank CME Group for allowing us to show you final-round action with limited commercial interruptions.” Bwaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!!!! Seriously, I laughed out loud when I heard that. Calling Sunday’s coverage “limited commercial interruptions” is like comparing an infomercial to the PBS NewsHour. The pace of commercial breaks slowed during the final hour, but prior to that I constantly was reaching for the remote to fast-forward through breaks.
  • Rankin on Michelle Wie: “She remains fascinating to the crowds, and they love everything she does, and they watch every move. And she gives them great hope all the time, and then – ahhh – the air goes out of the balloon.” Yup.
  •  Golf Channel reported that the CME drew the biggest first-round audience in its history (2011-17). There were 261,000 viewers, up 178 percent over 2016. Viewership data on subsequent rounds was not available at press time.
  •  “Justin Rose looks cool, calm and collected,” Sam Torrance said as Rose waited to hit his opening tee shot Sunday in Dubai. Here’s some unsolicited advice to announcers and writers: If you’re ever tempted to use that cliché, put down your microphone and close your laptop. Otherwise, you’re just showing your listeners and readers that you don’t give a damn.
  • Ken Brown bailed out Torrance with a self-deprecating story about playing with Peter Thomson in the 1977 Dunlop Masters (now the British Masters). Brown recalled the first-tee announcer introducing Thomson as the winner of 75 tournaments worldwide, five British Opens, two Dunlop Masters, and that he was “playing today with Ken Brown, runner-up in the Manchester Open.”
  •  Correction: The Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals aired on Golf Channel. Incorrect information was given in this column in the November print issue. 

(Note: This story appears on the Nov. 20, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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