As both a diehard golf follower and an admittedly impatient millennial, I have a confession:
Watching golf on network TV just doesn’t do it for me.
My frustrations have little to do with when golf itself is shown and everything to do with when it’s not being shown. The average PGA Tour broadcast in the United States has 18 minutes of commercials for each hour of coverage and, although I am fully aware of the economic realities for why that is the case, I find most telecasts treat golf like a soulless vehicle being used to sell ads.
The idea of sitting down for three hours and having to consume 54 minutes of commercials doesn’t feel like an efficient or enjoyable use of my time. While other sports also have plenty of commercials, they usually come with a well-defined, predetermined structure – we know an NFL halftime is 12 minutes or that a baseball game takes two minutes in between half-innings – while employing creative maneuvers for having sponsorship within the games themselves, such as hockey telecasts showing a 10-second spot after an a icing call or baseball digitally changing ads on the backstop.
Golf is woefully stuck in the past in this arena, failing to manage commercial load in a way that serves networks, advertisers and fans. This may be the definition of an eye-roll-inducing, first-world problem, but it’s one that could have real consequences for the game as my generation and Gen Z’ers reach more influential demographics in the advertising world.
If you want us to watch, be willing to listen to how we feel.
This may be the definition of an eye-roll-inducing, first-world problem, but it’s one that could have real consequences for the game as my generation and Gen Z’ers reach more influential demographics in the advertising world.
Earlier this month at the U.S. Open, there was one stretch where five commercial breaks occurred in 21 minutes with no more than a handful of shots being shown in between. Amidst that, weekday viewers were asked to start by watching the tournament on Peacock before transitioning to Golf Channel and then to NBC and then back to Golf Channel and then back to Peacock. Did you write all of that down? I’m sure someone in the TV world can explain why this was the case, but I have a hard time wrapping my ever-diminishing attention span around it.
One of golf’s championed solutions to the commercial load problem is a “Playing Through” element where you can watch the golf while the ads are playing. When Rory McIlroy made a clutch, potentially tournament-defining 8-foot par putt on the 10th hole Sunday at the U.S. Open, fans watched with no audio through a box that takes up less than a quarter of their screen. Well, not all fans. Streaming customers like myself only get full-screen ads instead. Many of those were house ads asking golfers to watch the U.S. Open, whether on TV or in augmented reality, to which I thought, “I would love to watch the tournament if you’d let me.”
Putting golf on a tiny portion of a screen is not an acceptable solution.
We’re all aware of how our world works in 2021. We’re seamlessly hopping in between subscription products like Spotify, Amazon and Netflix, paying extra to get what we want, uninterrupted. That exists in golf. PGA Tour Live, a subscription offering where you can watch featured groups with little inconvenience, is exponentially more enjoyable than the main telecast. Some gripe about having to pay for ESPN+ when events like the PGA Championship come around, but the quality is second-to-none within golf.
I would pay an embarrassing amount each month for a similar offering at every tournament that includes all players and not just featured groups. But there can be solutions within the current framework of golf on network TV. A terrific example is the Aon Risk Reward Challenge, a brief explanation of one hole each week that describes what level of risk a player has to take on in order to lower their score. It’s informative and not invasive. It serves Aon, a financial risk mitigation company, far better than one standard commercial repeated hundreds of times.
Golf needs more of that creative thinking to include ads within the broadcast without insulting its audience.
Until then, I’m not sure why people my age would invest their time into watching network TV golf in its current presentation.