2001: Tour needs to fine-tune TV options

Bad weekend for fans of televised golf. First, no Ryder Cup. Second, no Texas Open live on the tube on Sunday. But at least golf junkies in need of a fix got highlights from past Ryder Cups on The Golf Channel.

The Texas Open at LaCantera was scheduled to be aired on ESPN2 at 4 to 6 p.m. (EDT) Sunday but wasn’t when a baseball game between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles that meant nothing in the standings went into the 16th inning. The game was halted by rain at 6:53 p.m. and later declared a 1-all tie after 15 innings.

Only the New York and Baltimore markets, where the game was blacked out, received the live Texas Open telecast. At 5 p.m., midway through the golf show window, ESPN2 decided to air the Texas Open in its first available slot at 12-2 a.m. (EDT) and 9-11 p.m. (PDT) and switch to golf if baseball ended before 6.

Golf fans suffered because ESPN exercised its general policy of staying with a live event to its conclusion. By contract the network was not obligated to leave baseball, the PGA Tour said. “Live events going back to back overlap more than we’d like,” ESPN spokesman Dan Quinn said.

That left the network and the Tour, which had ongoing discussions, with unattractive options.

As an alternative to a live telecast, the Tour’s preference was a tape-delayed show as soon as possible. But ESPN2 had other programming after 6 p.m. (car racing and Baseball Tonight), and besides, the Tour wasn’t keen on going head-to-head with its 6-8 p.m. Senior PGA Tour telecast on CNBC, or against a Sunday night NFL game on ESPN.

“The compromise scenario we worked our way through was not ideal,” said Tour spokesman Bob Combs. “It’s always disappointing when the product is not shown when golf fans and viewers expect it be shown.”

ESPN2 did promote the Texas Open and show leader updates periodically during the baseball game. Moreover, advertisements slated for the golf telecast ran during the game and again on the rescheduled Texas Open.

“We have a contingency process for every week, but it’s hard to anticipate runovers,” said Donna Orender, the Tour’s senior vice president for television.

For the sake of the golf fan, perhaps the contingencies need re-examination. This would seem one more reason why the Tour should have a deal that allows The Golf Channel to air live golf in such a runover situation.

Surely The Golf Channel wouldn’t mind interrupting programs such as Ryder Cup highlights to deliver a live golf event to viewers – especially one in which Texan Justin Leonard was securing victory as young pro Matt Kuchar secured his PGA Tour card for 2002.

Miles away, near Jacksonville, Fla., Peter Kuchar, Matt’s father, a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, kept staring at ESPN2 on his television set, watching each extra inning of the baseball game eat into time he and many others had planned to spend watching the Texas Open.

“Just one more reason,” playfully mused the elder Kuchar, “that I can’t stand the New York Yankees.”

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