Jon Rahm finished the U.S. Open in incredible fashion, burying two huge birdie putts on 17 and 18 to get into the clubhouse at -6.
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 20, 2021
— U.S. Open (USGA) (@usopengolf) June 20, 2021
With the rest of the field faltering and Louis Oosthuizen only managing to get to -5, Rahm hung on, and we ended up with a very deserving winner. That’s all good!
The broadcast itself, though, spread for four days across NBC, Golf Channel, and Peacock, was not nearly as well-received as Rahm’s victory. Too many commercials, some questionable lack of shots shown on Sunday, and even blown flyover timing during the post-round ceremony all factored in, and all are worth mentioning. There’s one very simple change that NBC needs to make immediately, though: the constant leaderboard graphic.
First, as with all golf broadcast posts here: yes, golf is a tough sport to broadcast. Yes, there are “eighteen different arenas”, sort of. Yes, obviously not every broadcast can be completely devoid of commercials. (Most of all, yes, complaining about the coverage incessantly is perhaps annoying in its own right, or at least it can be, especially if it’s not substantive.) But that doesn’t make any critiques invalid, and it certainly doesn’t mean viewers should have to just be happy with whatever they’re given.
The presentation is important; the U.S. Open in primetime on NBC was handily beaten by Holey Moley on ABC. If more people (demo and overall) wanted to watch a mini-golf obstacle course show than one of the biggest events in golf, that’s a sign things should change.
Bucks-Nets on ESPN: 4.445 million viewers
Young Sheldon on CBS: 4.093 million
United States of Al on CBS: 4.05 million
Mom on CBS: 3.319 million
Holey Moley (Goes Pro) on ABC: 3.164 million
Holey Moley (Silent Night) on ABC: 2.673 million
B Positive on CBS: 2.65M
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) June 18, 2021
The lack of an onscreen leaderboard graphic from NBC was especially galling, as it’s a prime example of golf coverage moving backwards in some respects. When Fox took over the USGA properties, they had some obvious growing pains, but by the end of their tenure in the sport they’d actually become a very pleasant watch. One of the main reasons was the innovation they pushed; from the start, they offered a live leaderboard on screen at all times, a pretty simple evolution that ended up becoming indispensable.
CBS followed suit, and at the Masters and the PGA this year both they and ESPN offered the translucent leaderboard tucked into the corner of the screen.
— The IC Workstation (@ClippelBoardy) June 21, 2021
NBC, though, doesn’t offer one at all, and the absence is very apparent.
There's zero excuse to not have this. Very simple thing, and every other network that broadcasts golf (or did broadcast golf, in the case of Fox) would have it. https://t.co/HAZelnadmF
— Jay Rigdon (@jayrigdon5) June 19, 2021
Fox giving the USGA rights back to NBC (and paying a lot of the contract still; NBC is airing these events for cents on the dollar) has been unfortunate all around. For a lot of the weekend, and especially for a stretch today when there were ten players either tied for the lead or one shot back. The constantly updating leaderboard is essential for stretches like that, where even the most critical observer would be okay with a network not being able to show every shot from every player in contention.
Please add this for the Open Championship in July, NBC. That’s a small ask.
A few other observations:
- The commercial load was absurd. Late in the round on Sunday, the broadcast went to a three minute Playing Through break, which reduces the picture to a tiny portion of the screen and cuts out audio entirely. It’s essentially like not watching at all, and some key moments ended up happening during those breaks. Nothing makes things feel less important than that; not to mention watching, say, on YouTube TV on your phone means you basically have no idea what’s happening. And despite the Playing Through portions, it still often felt like we were missing key shots from key players. Worst of all: ads for the U.S. Open itself airing simultaneously in a bigger section of the screen than the actual U.S. Open.
- This is especially galling considering NBC is not paying the same rate Fox was for the USGA contract, and Fox aired a ton of commercial-free coverage. NBC went ad-free for the final hour on Sunday, but by then there were only a couple of players in contention; the drama was over, and it would have been a more palatable time to run some ad breaks between shots.
- That’s its own thing, but for example: Brooks Koepka had a shot to post a clubhouse lead on 18, a reachable par 5. We didn’t see either of his first two shots, despite the fact that he went for the green over water from off the fairway. Obviously not every shot can be shown, but there were plenty of other examples.
- The trophy ceremony was…something, featuring music playing John Rahm off before he finished answering an interview question, and then a complete whiff on the flyover timing:
When you get the flyover timing wrong: pic.twitter.com/adQPaQUusY
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) June 21, 2021
- Worst of all, NBC stuck with the trophy presentation here for a longer period of time than they stuck with the U.S. Women’s Open playoff when both were cutting into scheduled Olympic trial coverage. That’s a tough look, because even if it was a conscious reaction to blowback from golf viewers before, it’s missing the point. The issue was always that the men wouldn’t have been dumped at that point, and that sort of proved true, even if it wasn’t a malicious decision.
- The constant switching between Golf Channel, NBC, and Peacock was really weird throughout the week for a major. Obviously NBC is looking to push Peacock as much as possible, but it still led to a frustrating experience if you wanted to really settle in for any length of time.
To finish with something positive: NBC’s camerawork is top notch, somehow even managing to catch that a ball bounced up into a tree in a key moment without coming down. Their analysts on the course, especially Bones Mackay, Roger Maltbie, David Feherty, and Gary Koch, are all very good at setting the table for viewers and providing the right context.
NBC knows how to make golf feel big and important. They’ve done that for years. It just didn’t really come through this week, for a variety of factors. That’s unfortunate. Hopefully the Open is a different story, starting with a leaderboard graphic.