Best of Golf 2018: A hectic season of change across television

Sep 23, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; The crowd follows Tiger Woods down the 18th green during the final round of the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Best of Golf 2018: A hectic season of change across television

Golf on TV

Best of Golf 2018: A hectic season of change across television

Televised golf tends to move slowly on the macrolevel and quickly on the microlevel.

Watching a TV crew produce tournament coverage up close is an impressive site; dozens of decisions are made every minute. If more golf fans could see that, it would give them a more balanced perspective of the weekly coverage.

On the macrolevel, however, the industry moves slowly. The major network crews experience less turnover than Democrat-controlled congressional districts in New York and San Francisco, and the industry is slow to adapt to new technologies that improve the viewing experience.

Despite all of that, 2018 feels as if it has been a year of significant change in the industry.

Here, in descending order, are the year’s biggest stories.

5. Bevacqua jumps from the PGA to NBC

Who saw this one coming? In July we learned that Pete Bevacqua, former CEO of the PGA of America, would become the president of NBC Sports Group. Bevacqua got high marks for his tenure at the PGA, but his limited TV experience – the PGA holds the rights to the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup – made his selection by NBC a curious one.

4. ESPN becomes CBS’ new PGA Championship partner

 I would rather speak ill of my late mother than say anything critical of Ernie Johnson, who might be the most decent human being ever to pick up a microphone. But few golf fans will lament the departure of Turner Sports, which will air the PGA’s early-round coverage for the final time in 2019.

ESPN, which already teams with CBS on Masters coverage, will marshal all of its platforms in support of the PGA, which should elevate the championship’s stature. This partnership runs through 2030, and with the PGA moving to a more favorable date in May, CBS and ESPN will be able to spend the spring promoting the season’s first two men’s majors. The lengthy extension also is an indication that CBS’ new management remains firmly committed to golf.

3. PGA Tour, Discovery strike historic deal

 This 12-year deal to distribute coverage of the PGA Tour on television and a Tour-branded streaming service in international markets might ultimately prove to be the biggest story of 2018. The contract is one of the best recent examples of the power of live sports programming and also underscores the Tour’s creative, direct-to-consumer strategy. Discovery touted it as a $2 billion investment in the PGA Tour, which now has a seasoned international partner that will deliver 2,000 hours of content annually.

2. Johnny Miller retires

That was expected; Miller has been contemplating retirement for several years. The real stunner was that Paul Azinger will slide into Miller’s seat at NBC, while continuing to call the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open for Fox. His role with two networks is not unprecedented, but it’s rare.

The change should go smoothly; Azinger is an experienced voice and arguably the industry’s top analyst. It is, however, telling that throughout Miller’s 29 years, NBC was unable to develop a suitable heir
to his chair, and this year had to get creative to bring in Azinger.

1. Tiger returns, and so do viewers

When Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship, the TV ratings were the highest in the event’s history. When he nearly won the PGA Championship in August, the tournament posted its highest rating in nine years. Dear Lord, the final round of the Valspar Championship, where Woods was in contention until the end, had more viewers than the final round of the U.S. Open, where Woods missed the cut.

So to all of the thoughtful and eloquent Golfweek readers who email me to complain about the fawning coverage the networks give Woods, I have just one request: Stop it! Just stop it! Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the November 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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