With the news that Golf Channel has closed their Orlando studios and relocated in Stamford, CT (just outside of New York) along with the rest of NBC’s sports programming, it’s time to take a deep dive on how to keep Golf Channel relevant in 2021 and beyond. I had extended family call Stamford home (they’ve since passed), and by all accounts it’s a lovely town (haven’t been back in several years).
As with most things, it took a notepad, two bourbons, and an open mind. These changes don’t require significant investment, and will provide greater depth of coverage.
Bringing Shane Bacon on board to host ‘Golf Today’ (replacing ‘Morning Drive’) is a great first step that has been universally praised (and rightly so). Shane was easily the best part of FOX’s USGA coverage. It helps that nearly everyone who’s met him has said he’s a great guy. He will also be on-site at major events as part of their ‘Life From’ coverage.
However, there are additional changes that are needed. These changes are about adapting and trying to stay ahead of the curve. The goal should be to continue to engage the core audience but also grow their viewership. These changes reflect what I think is an expansion on Arnold Palmer’s vision for the network, while embracing the future of television.
- Addition of a rules expert at all PGA/LPGA Tour event coverage. Not just during the majors but every week; the rules person can work out of their studios in Stamford. Think how FOX and CBS each have a rules expert for their NFL and college football coverage who works from their studio. While they’re at it, rules officials at tournaments should be wearing wireless mics so that viewers can easily hear what’s being said. Nothing on this side of the Atlantic will match the master of what this can look like (seriously, Nigel is a cult figure); Slugger White wishes he were Nigel Owens.
- Addition of a weekly program devoted to NCAA golf coverage. If they’re going to be serious about showing the NCAA championships and a few random tournaments, start here. A weekly 60-minute show that has tournament highlight clips, previews of upcoming events and rankings isn’t a huge ask. This can and should help them naturally build to their NCAA tournament coverage in April and May (you already have dedicated networks for the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and PAC-12 so it’s just down to assembling clips).
- CNBC has to become their default ‘overflow’ option on weekends (I get not wanting to use it during the week when the financial markets are open). I like ‘Shark Tank’ and ‘Undercover Boss’ reruns and I’m sure others do as well, but there’s no reason to not use CNBC as the ‘overflow’ option. It has good market penetration and won’t be a hard-to-find channel for viewers.
- Peacock (premium) should be used for next-generation stuff and/or alternate feeds. If you want to try something new or out of the box, use Peacock for it (and go commercial free). I’ve seen other platforms have a ‘fan commentary’ option (one example- having a European fan and a US fan doing commentary during the Ryder Cup). In short, Peacock becomes their lab, which will enhance its value as a “plus” option.
- Make movie night great again. Film interviews with the crews who did ‘Caddyshack’, ‘Bagger Vance’, ‘Greatest Game’, ‘Tin Cup’, etc. And while you’re at it, obtain the rights for ‘Dead Solid Perfect’ (you can blur out the nude scene,- just don’t blur out the ice bucket…if you know, you know). Even better- show the films uncut after hours. Fine; you don’t want the kids to hear the swears or see partial nudity at 8:00 p.m., but overnight go wild (BTW, this doesn’t fall under FCC ‘decency’ standards laws because it’s cable). ESPN Classic (when it existed) did this (talk to the filmmakers) for a ton of sports films. MLB Network and NHL Network have done this for a few baseball and hockey films. Go back and insert blurbs on these screenings (“this clip was filmed at Shady Pines CC in June 1981” or “this clip was shot after filming because Craig Stadler stained his pants and there wasn’t backup wardrobe”).
- Behind The Scenes at the Ryder Cup. I’ve seen these ‘warts and all’ documentaries done, and when they’re done well they’re fantastic. The Netflix series “Sunderland ‘Til I Die’, the HBO “24/7 Winter Classic (the first year especially when it was the Penguins-Capitals), the HBO “Hard Knocks” and the rugby union Lions Tour behind the scenes documentaries (on YouTube) are great stuff. NBC/Golf Channel should insist on doing one. Bring viewers into the team rooms, into the conference rooms where the team selection is debated, and follow players, captains and assistant captains around.
- Movies, Part II. Run a contest for the next great golf film similar to HBO’s ‘Project Greenlight’. Allow submissions, and pick one to option out for production.
- In addition to the “Inside The PGA Tour” weekly program, now that the PGA and LPGA Tours have a relationship, there should be an “Inside The LPGA Tour” program as well that gets aired and syndicated. I’d bet Mike Whan would agree to this in about two seconds.
- More of a PGA/LPGA Tour issue, but they need to get the collective stick out of their butts when it comes to users posting clips on social media. I understand ‘but muh broadcast rights’ but allowing a user to post 2-3 clips of 60-90 seconds per day on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/TikTok should be embraced. If the Tours want to require their social media accounts are shared along with the video, then great (better social media engagement!). But that clip of Bryson Dechambeau having a meltdown back in the summer was spectacular. Like it or not this is how many people ‘consume’ content.
- Find someone who can do long-form interviews. I like David Feherty, but his act has gotten stale (not just his interviews). The person who might be best suited is now at ESPN (Scott Van Pelt), so this may be one of those ‘develop someone internally’ deals.
- Nine-hole versions of ‘Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf’ with two-player mixed teams. Three holes alternate shot, three holes shamble, three holes two-person best ball. Something that can be consolidated into a 60-minute show. Nine holes to cut down on time commitments and allow them to film content easier.
- In the spirit of ESPN8 (“the ocho”) have 1-2 days a year devoted to infomercials or their older programming (Kessler’s old interviews for starters). They brought back old episodes of ‘The Big Break’ during the shutdown; go deeper and older. Embrace history, but continue to look to the future.
Never stop innovating. I know 2020 was rough on people for a host of reasons, but if you’re reading this, I sincerely hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday/festive season. I think we’re all hoping 2021 is better for everyone. All the best.
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