Lost amid the buildup for the PGA Championship this week was news that the USGA TV rights package (which includes all USGA-conducted events including the US Open, US Women’s Open and US Senior Open) was awarded to FOX starting in 2015. Lost amid the glee of never having to deal with Chris Berman polluting my television during the US Open, was one tiny little issue- FOX has never produced nor aired a professional golf tournament in North America. Yes, BSkyB in Britain airs the US PGA tour as well as the European Tour (and the Ryder Cup), but their US coverage consists of using the US network’s feed.
When NBC acquired the rights from ABC beginning with the 1995 US Open, at least NBC had golf coverage (and Johnny Miller was already their lead analyst). FOX cannot say that, which means that their first coverage will be for the US Open in 2015 in Chambers Bay (which has hosted a US Amateur but never a US Open). They don’t have a producer (Tommy Roy and Lance Barrow handle this for NBC and CBS respectively), and they don’t have announcers.
So why did this happen? The only logical reason is money- FOX outbid NBC (John Feinstein, in his outstanding book “Open” about the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Black, detailed the negotiations between the USGA and the networks…his book revealed that NBC outbid ABC by several million dollars per year…and this was 1994 dollars).
It’s hard to see CBS or NBC allowing their announcers to go work for a competitor (and with Fox rolling out Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 later this month they won’t want to use other networks for coverage), especially with what I’m sure is no small amount of acrimony. So FOX is essentially starting from scratch. If I were running things, this would be what I’d do:
Host: Joe Buck. Novice to golf, but NBC uses Bob Costas in a similar role at the US Open. Name recognition and there’s that familiarity to boot.
Anchor: If FOX is serious, they should make a play for someone like Rich Lerner at The Golf Channel. While casual sports fans may not know him, your core golf audience does. If they have to bring someone in internally, I’d look at Thom Brennaman. Solid on baseball, and knows enough to punt to the analysts. Your wild card would be Vin Scully, who’s done golf and was pretty good. Question is does he want the gig and is he willing to travel? Which brings me to…
Main Analyst: Ken Venturi was and is the gold standard. FOX can go three directions:
1) Greg Norman. Norman tried to start a World Golf Tour (reaching out to FOX’s David Hill) in 1994…before the PGA Tour started the World Golf Championships. A light schedule of 3-4 events per year wouldn’t overly tax him (given his other business interests). He’s not afraid of speaking his mind.
2) Lee Trevino. Younger fans may not know him, but pre-Johnny Miller he worked on NBC’s golf (with Vin Scully). Your “core” audience knows him; he’s funny and always has a good story to tell. He’s won the US Open so he can speak to the pressure (and given his very modest beginnings he can speak to the “Open” part of said championships).
3) Jack Nicklaus. If you want name recognition Nicklaus is the gold standard. Like Norman, he’s already busy with his businesses but I suppose the question is would he want the gig? Only problem…he’s horrible on TV. Go watch him on the Memorial Tournament. I’m not saying he should show up with a fauxhawk and an earring but he’s not exactly known for being critical. I just don’t know if he’s able to give the viewer that expert opinion without needing 10 minutes to do so.
1) Fuzzy Zoeller. Won a US Open. And a Masters. Okay, so there was the whole foot-in-mouth at the 1997 Masters, but he’s funny and I do think that would translate to TV.
2) Tommy Armour III. Knows the game. Funny.
3) Notah Begay/Paul Goydos. Both work for the Golf Channel, but I’d look at using them. Begay played college golf with Tiger Woods so he can be…well, not exactly quick to lay on the criticism, but both know the game and translate well to television.
It is interesting that while Fox Sports 1 has landed NFL, NHL, and MLB analysts, they’ve been silent on the golf front.
Either way, the 2015 US Open should be interesting.