We’re coming into a new age for golf’s majors. Now that The Masters is in the history books, we look ahead to the second major on the golf calendar – the US Open at Chambers Bay. And that tournament represents a historic first as the first time Fox Sports will televise a major championship golf tournament.
The Buffalo News has a look at Fox’s entry into golf and the 18th tower team of Joe Buck and Greg Norman. Included in the piece are some quotes from Fox Sports programming exec Bill Wanger about the importance of the event for Fox Sports getting into golf and what the live event means for Fox Sports 1.
One of Fox’s reasons for shelling out big money for rights to the U.S. Open, of course, is to draw eyeballs to its Fox Sports 1, which has been in existence for 20 months.
“The live events drive the viewership,” Wanger said, “so we’re going to have about 40 hours of coverage on Fox Sports 1 of just the U.S. Open. You’re talking about eight hours on Thursday and Friday, and all sorts of preview shows, so it’s really important to establish a good base for people to come and check out the channel.
“And particularly golf, which is a unique audience. It’s a little bit older, more upscale, so it’s an opportunity for those folks to be able to see the network.”
Seeing Fox Sports 1 publicly yearning to attract golf’s older, upscale audience and have them visit the network is a long cry from the days of #The1ForFun. The arranged marriage between the conservative golf audience and Fox Sports is one that will bear watching in June considering the golf world’s yearly reaction to Chris Berman.
It’s a bit of a turn in public strategy by Fox Sports 1. Before the network launched, it was all about creating a fun and irreverent alternative to what they viewed as the stodgy and stuffy old guard in Bristol. Fox producer Scott Ackerson said the following to Bloomberg about the ways in which FS1 would distinguish itself:
Around the FS1 offices, the words “fun” and “irreverent” are thrown around to describe everything. Scott Ackerson, one of the producers who created Fox NFL Sunday, says ESPN does a great job “teaching about sports, educating. Most of their shows deal with X’s and O’s. We’re not going to do the traditional, everything-is-a-game story. … We are going to have football players talking about baseball, Andy Roddick talking about basketball. This is going to be elite athletes having fun.”
320 hours of USGA events is not exactly fun and irreverent.
In addition to televising the US Open, Fox’s new contract with the USGA calls for a number of amateur tournaments to be televised as well.
– US Open, US Women’s Open, US Senior Open
– US Amateur Fourball (men’s and women’s)
– US Junior Amateur
– US Amateur (men’s and women’s)
In those three most presitigious tournaments at the top of the list, Fox Sports 1 will have 36 hours of combined coverage alone, in addition to weekend and primetime coverage on the Fox broadcast network.
The major lesson from the first 18 months of Fox Sports 1 is that live events rule all. FS1 hasn’t been able to even approach or compete with ESPN based on what wonky or irreverent studio show they can put together. They haven’t been able to compete based on Andy Roddick talking about baseball. The only times that Fox Sports Live has surpassed SportsCenter is after a huge lead-in programming boost.
The path forward for Fox Sports 1 isn’t as “The 1 for Fun” or whatever marketing ploy they can come up with next. The path forward is through acquiring as many live sporting events as possible. The network has made some progress in that regard with MLB postseason baseball, the Champions League, and by acquiring properties like the US Open and the World Cup. But Fox has to know they’re playing the long game here and the journey to challenging ESPN will only come through countless incremental steps. Even if those steps are televising amateur golf.