Monday, August 17, 2015

End the Torture, Golf Broadcasting Needs a Rethink

We’re through the four majors of the 2015 golf season. With a fresh crop of stars emerging with some obvious rivalries the competitive landscape appears bright. The golf fan would have much to look forward to if it wasn’t for the awful state of golf broadcasting which is anything but fresh. Apart from showing many more holes the approach to telecasting golf has barely changed in my lifetime and despite the majors being covered by three different networks there’s no discernible difference among those networks in how the game is called. The exception is the European Tour events which are quite well done.

You might think that the reason the Euro Tour is better is that the Brits just know how to call golf, but then there’s Nick Faldo, so that’s clearly not it. There is a certain unfamiliarity advantage. But I think the biggest advantage is that the Euro Tour is covered with a comparatively skeleton crew. Which leads me to the following thoughts on how to telecast golf (with the majors primarily in mind).

1. Less is more, a lot less is a lot more:
There is an extraordinary excess in the amount of commentary. At points we have a reporter on the ground, an announcer at that particular hole, the host, a lead analyst all intent on interjecting something onto the proceedings. Watching golf you come away convinced that the announcers are being paid by the word. More forgivable are the suitable for radio comments particularly for putts; he comes up short, that was right all the way…What is needed is little more than quick orientation comments of the Day, second shot on 14 variety. The presumption should be to say nothing rather than something. Pay announcers by setting a ceiling amount and then deducting for each word.

2. You’re at the event live. That’s your niche:
We now have 24 hour sports stations, and an entire channel devoted to nothing but golf. The one unique thing the telecast brings to the table is that it is live. For the love of God, SHOW SHOTS. Instead we get taped segments and after round player interviews, you know all the things already beaten to death, available elsewhere, inherently dull (has a player ever said anything even remotely interesting in a post round interview?).

3. We’re just not that into you:
Somehow our main announcers think they’re a big reason why we watch. Other than the intro, there is absolutely no reason to show the announcers. Worst of the worst here was Fox, which seemed to believe that we were more interested in watching their announce team sitting behind their desk discuss the tournament than actually seeing it.

This is also where we run into my first law of sports broadcasting; the more shtick, the earlier your sell by date. Gary McCord started on CBS in 1986. Do the math. Even David Feherty who I find really inventive and funny is starting to grate. And the hosts are all terribly over-exposed. I get quite enough Joe Buck in the football season, thanks.

4. More players are in contention than you think:
Remarkably the networks are still getting caught out ignoring a player who almost wins the event until the very end. In particular, last groupitis appears to be incurable. This is especially true during the early rounds when essentially everyone is in it. There’s simply no good reason to spend telecast time showing Phil walking, Phil standing, Phil discussing what to do with his caddie on a particular shot. At one point during the British Open we watched the player and spectators search for his lost ball. How ‘bout coming back to that when it’s resolved.

5. Enough with instruction:
I maybe alone on this (as opposed to all of the above?), but at least during the majors I don’t want playing tips and swing instruction. I get it, you know the game. But I can find all the golf instruction, and then some, in other venues. To repeat, you’re live, at the event. The tournament is the thing. At one point we had 3 or 4 Fox analysts tell us how they strike the ball when putting on dodgy greens. Since we can’t actually see that or know which players are doing one or the other that commentary tells us nothing about the actual tournament at hand.

The best stretch of announcing was actually delivered on Thursday or Friday of the U.S. Open in the otherwise terrible coverage of FOX. Late in the day and down to a small backup crew, FOX stumbled into something. Shane O’Donoghue, who’s actually a golf guy, was spare and unobtrusive in the host role and analysts Flesch and Pavin made single comments and moved on. It was almost enough to give a golf fan hope.