I listened in on a conference call yesterday put on by The Golf Channel. They were promoting the start of their 15-year contract with the PGA Tour, which begins today with the Mercedes Championship in Hawaii.
There will be some interesting developments with this new broadcaster, not the least, of course, is that in Canada, TGC has been relegated way up the digital dial, trimming the audience considerably. By the way, that’s not a situation unique to Canada. In many markets in the U.S., it’s the same thing.
The Golf Channel is in 75 million homes in the States, but there are some significant holes, such as in New York City, where it can be tough to get it. For a number of years after TGC went on the air, it was impossible to get it in Jacksonville, which is too funny. And that number is actually reach — not viewers. Just as it is in Canada, in many parts of the U.S., you have to pay extra for TGC and get a digital box, etc., etc. ESPN is a far more widely distributed (about 100 million homes) and, more importantly, widely watched network. I can tell you that a couple of PGA Tour players I talked last year to were upset to learn that they wouldn’t be on ESPN anymore, which, by the way, includes highlights on SportsCenter. Those will no doubt be buried now on America’s most-watched sportscast. Sports fans in the U.S. worship ESPN. Robert Thompson has more on this angle in his blog today.
The Golf Channel’s new era does have benefits for those who want to pay. The Thursday and Friday rounds will be replayed in prime time. They will also air a one-hour golf central every night from 9-10, and a Sprint Post Game show after the coverage and on weekends, a pre-game show from 12-12:30.
One of the other big questions for the new coverage will be the performance of Kelly Tilghman, who will be the first woman anchor for men’s golf coverage. Yesterday, she said it was an honour to be given the position and that it wasn’t something she actively pursued. She said that she saw her job as the setup person for Nick Faldo, who will be the analyst. I think she’ll do just fine. She’s talented and knowledgeable. It will be noteworthy to see if she’s accepted by what will most certainly be an older male audience. Of course, she’s used to being the first woman in a lot of situations, right up from when she was the quarterback of an all boy’s football team when she was a kid.
An interesting question asked yesterday was about the relationship between the Tour and TGC, and whether the anchors would feel comfortable criticizing the Tour where necessary. Both Faldo and Tilghman said they would have no trouble doing that.
That’s always been one of my beefs with The Golf Channel. I’ve found that they don’t really criticize much, to be honest. It’s definitely improved over the years, but it seems to be pretty sanitized over all. The web site is much more opinionated. On air, they seem to avoid controversy although they do have some good depth once in a while, such as Rich Lerner’s story last year on the re-building of golf in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
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