Forget the Palm Beach Bear Trap – Golf Broadcasters are Caught in a Metaphorical Bear Trap

Forget the Palm Beach Bear Trap – Golf Broadcasters are Caught in a Metaphorical Bear Trap

In recent weeks, the murmurs of annoyance amongst the audience of the telecasts of PGA Tour golf events have reached a crescendo roar. With a litany of advertisement breaks, over-saturation of sponsorships and a lack of actual golf being shown, golf fans have voiced their disenchantment with the broadcasting of the sport they love on social media.

The current state of discontent was illuminated by recently sacked golf TV Analyst, Peter Kostis, in his recent “tell all” on the No Laying Up podcast, his comments focused on the quality, or lack thereof, of the TV broadcast of golf events. Kostis cited the notion that the exponentially increasing cost for TV companies to acquire the broadcasting rights had a significant impact on the perceived downturn in broadcast quality. He claimed that his former network rolled out cost-cutting measures in the wake of the new contract being signed which included a number of redundancy and retirement packages being dished out to highly skilled and experienced camera operators. This led to more mistakes in filming due to a lack of experienced personnel and a reduction in the amount of camera’s on site, and culminated in critical golfing moments in recent tournaments being missed completely.

The latest penned contract results in the PGA Tour claiming $700 million each year for the next nine years from the various TV companies that broadcast PGA Tour events. To plug the financial gap that has emerged following the signing of this new contract, TV companies are targeting revenue in the form of TV advertisements and product placement. This has subtracted air-time from the actual golf being played and placed more emphasis on the insertion of sponsored segments of the broadcast. Mr Kostis substantiated this in that he claimed that the PGA Tour’s hierarchy put his former broadcaster under pressure to promote the sponsors of events and the tour.

As a golf fan, I know the amount we have to pay via an annual subscription to watch golf has increased dramatically also, pricing many out of the market and worsening the cauldron of pressure placed upon the broadcasters, and multiplying the air of dissent towards the PGA Tour.

With the ever increasing constrains that come hand in hand with broadcasting a modern-day sports event, surely the most progressive way for broadcasters to operate would be to maximise the viewing figures along with revenues and not denigrate one in favour of the other. In recent years, people have been driven away from watching televised golf, with a prominent golf magazine showing a 24% decline in viewing figures between 2010 and 2016. Tiger Woods’ return to fitness and the introduction of new technology during broadcasts such as that of Protracer and Trackman has resulted in a slight climb in viewers over the last 18 months, although only time will tell whether this is enough to permanently reverse the malaise seen during the past decade.

To put it mildly, the brand image of the PGA Tour and indeed that of golf broadcasters in recent times has suffered. In spite of the fire that the PGA Tour has come under, they are still able to rake in colossal revenues of approximately $1.2 billion (in 2017), with that figure presumably rising with the new media deal. However, it must be said that the PGA Tour are a not-for-profit organisation and resultantly donate copious amounts of money to charity annually, with an accumulated donated amount of $3.05 billion since its inception.

Whilst the PGA Tour’s business model is proving to be of substantial success, the opposite can be said of the broadcasters’ fortunes. After having to cough up $700 million annually to meet the tour’s demands, along with significant cost-cutting and the perceived worsening product on offer for viewers – it begs the question, is the bubble about to burst?

Golf is not the only sport in which there is a chasm between the hierarchy of the elite levels and the regular fans. Notably, football saw a revolution following the inception of the English Premier League in the early 1990’s whereby football teams were ran more as a business as opposed to being ran with fans and community at the heart of affairs.

Football supporters have seen the prices of match day tickets increase significantly, so too with television subscriptions to watch their teams. Many would say that the game is totally unrecognisable now from what it used to be. Take the English Premier League for instance, as of the present 2019/20 season, there are three platforms that broadcast live Premier League matches in the UK – the most of any season in the league’s existence. Resultantly, the everyday fan has to fork out for an extra TV package to watch their teams or indeed enjoy football matches on the regular. Similarly to golf, the latest TV rights deal possesses a colossal value – over £5 billion. Whilst boosting the profitability of Premier League clubs, thousands of ordinary fans are feeling the pinch with the increasing prices seeing numerous protests at the direction in which English Premier League are driving football.

Television rights have moved the metaphorical goalposts and are now moving the metaphorical flagstick in golf. Undoubtedly, the ramping up of rights fees has provided a feast of new opportunities, causes for good and scope for development, but many are sceptical of the present direction televised sport is taking. Increased prices, a perceived worsened product and with an elite group continually growing their revenue puts a sour taste in the mouths of various stakeholders and jeopardises the brand image of sports leagues amongst hordes of their core supporters.

Author: David Hood, Junior Analyst