We all want to see golf on television adapt to the times and improve. While Friday’s network opt-out deadline came and went as an opportunity for the PGA Tour to shake things up, they chose not to do so.
Very shrewd move, Commissioner Jay Monahan.
For fans, the only intrigue in a possible opt-out would have centered around Monahan’s desire to move the look and feel of golf into the future. But the cost of risking partnerships and jumping in with new partners was too great, with no clear sign of a positive outcome for such a move at a time ratings are down.
Besides, significant progress has come with various tracer technologies, HD, employing Trackman, super slow motion replays, Playing Through, live look-ins on breaking events and alternate viewing options like Amen Corner Live.
Despite the views of some at PGA Tour headquarters reportedly pushing for change, Monahan made the right call to put off any shake-up for a few years while the PGA Tour revamps its schedule. (Golf Channel’s current deal to televise also expires in 2021, with no opt-out). This also allows them to get a better sense of how the cable vs. streaming wars play out and strike a better deal going forward.
Consider just some of the reasons Monahan made the right call (The PGA Tour confirmed the contract is going forward and may be addressed at the Tour Championship):
—Schedule madness. The upcoming schedule revamp has way too many open-ended questions and uncertainties to have renegotiated deal terms or welcomed-in other networks. It’s going to be tricky enough to work out the changes with current network partners, sponsors and players, why add more headache?
—Our Future Is Not Quite Here Yet. Many believe streaming is the future and cord cutting will collapse the cable model, but has any major sports property said goodbye to guaranteed network or cable money to take their chances with disruptive mediums? Golf should be about the last sport to do so because…
—The Audience Is Not Ready. While many younger fans are prepared to watch golf via streaming, a majority of golf’s demographic still watches via cable. That demographic hurdle is not changing fast enough to justify taking a tour event away from a network and putting it on Amazon or YouTube or Twitter. Unless the tour is in the business of setting precedent over making money for its players.
—Sponsors Are Not Ready. You might get a more engaged audience of 180,000 watching the final round of the Dell Technologies on Apple and Amazon TV’s. You might even get one that directly taps that sponsor’s audience, but nearly all tournaments would still rather take their chances reaching a larger number of eyeballs. The blue-chip brands the PGA Tour loves (and who like golf) want to see their logos on big screens in bars and golf courses. They still want to invest in something reaching more than a very targeted audience. The current deal accomplishes this for the people who fund the product.
—Opportunity To Change The Tone. I’ve heard no shortage of players and PGA Tour brass suggest angrily they could be doing way better. Now, this ignores that things are pretty incredible right now, and definitely ignores the post-Tiger ratings decline. But this attitude also mystifies countless network types and marketing world figures who cannot fathom how the PGA Tour believes they hold the stronger hand in the post-sports rights fee bubble. With a good deal for all sides in place through 2021, Monahan can use his personality to repair relationships and create a dialogue amongst his media partners that satisfies their needs and the desires of the Tour’s fanbase.
—Alignment Possibilities. There is a lingering bitterness over the sense that the PGA Tour left money on the table by locking into Golf Channel through 2021—a deal many saw as just as big of a risk for Golf Channel at the time. This rage clouds the thinking of many who disregard how simple it is for fans, bartenders and anyone with a cable package to find PGA Tour golf on a Thursday, Friday or weekend morning. But as the media world changes, not opting out allows the PGA Tour to gain a few more years of perspective and data. In two years they can better align possible weekday partners with weekend partners in a new deal or spend hundreds of millions starting their own channel. Or, pursue different terms with Golf Channel that can serve as an anger-management soother for Ponte Vedra’s disillusioned Vice Presidential core. Win-win!