When watching televised golf, it’s almost impossible to appreciate just how many shots are being played at any given time. What viewers see on any given Thursday-Sunday is actually a very small percentage of the number of shots played in a tournament – usually the television networks will focus on the tournament leaders, any big names (i.e. Tiger Woods) in the middle of the field, or replaying any highlights that may have occurred from elsewhere on the course. The other 97% of shots throughout a tournament often go unseen by viewers. If you want to follow the golfer of your choice, you have to do it either by waiting on a leaderboard update or following some kind of computerized shotlink system.
But what if that could change?
In what is a groundbreaking endeavor for the sport, the PGA Tour will stream every single shot of a tournament for the first time in history at next year’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. You’ll just need to be a PGA Tour Live subscriber to watch it.
Ever since the launch of the streaming service PGA TOUR Live in 2015, a growing contingent of fans has been clamoring to be able to see every shot from any golfer they wanted. At the 2020 Players Championship, they’ll get their wish – more than 32,000 shots in total from the elite field of 144 players will be live-streamed from TPC Sawgrass.
The logistics are enough to make one’s head spin. With half of the field starting play in the morning and half in the afternoon, there are potentially 24 or 25 groups on the course at any given time, with multiple balls in the air at once. Each group will have its own dedicated stream, with almost 120 cameras spread around the course to capture the action.
While PGA TOUR Live has offered featured group coverage as a streaming complement to the television broadcast window, the reality is that the majority of a PGA TOUR event’s action isn’t covered or ever seen. That all changes at the Players Championship, where the revolutionary coverage will be available to PGA TOUR Live subscribers on either the NBC Sports Gold or Amazon Prime video channels. Mike McCarley, the president of all golf properties for NBC Sports Group, calls it “super-serving golf fans,” and PGA TOUR officials anticipate a wealth of possibilities for the enhanced content, both in terms of monetization and otherwise.
This is an immense innovation – not just for what it may do for televised golf in the future, but for the work that will go into making it actually happen.
Networks and streaming platforms have done a better job of making more golf available to viewers in recent years. It’s always worth noting that once upon a time, you could only see the Back 9 of the Masters on Sunday. Now you can watch almost every hole of every round, and follow along online before television coverage even starts. Many streams for majors will either offer coverage of specific holes to watch every group come through, or coverage of specific featured groups as they make their way around the course.
To stretch that from 1-2 featured groups to 20-25 featured groups means amping up the resources and technology by an insane amount. It will be fascinating to see how the PGA Tour not only manages the broadcast capabilities to pull this off, but what the interface might look like for fans. And it sounds like the PGA might still at least be figuring that last part out.
As you might imagine, live streaming every single shot from a PGA TOUR event is both complex and costly. Making this option a reality hinged on two key elements: new technology that made the production feasible from a cost standpoint and having enough viable platforms to show the content. While many of these over-the-top (OTT) platforms have existed for years, Goicouria notes that the adoption rates are rising as people become increasingly comfortable consuming sports on the internet and via apps on their phones and tablets.
Challenges still remain, however. Most notably, how do you visually present to a viewer that they can watch any one of 70-some golfers at any given time?
“Once you’ve figured out how you’re going to produce that from the golf course, you also have to figure out how you’re going to present that to your audience in a way that they can easily understand that and consume it,” Goicouria says. “There’s any number of ways you can do that. We’re in the process of solving that now.”
It would be nearly impossible for a television network to be able to produce this kind of coverage on its own, but it’s perfect as a streaming option for the hardcore golf fan. And with the PGA Tour coming up on new rights deals after their current contracts expire at the end of 2021, now is the perfect time to test out an idea like this, which could become a major selling point of any new streaming package.
Perhaps it’s an overstatement in a general sense, but this could be as big of an innovation for golf fans as CBS/Turner making every game of the NCAA Tournament available for fans and moving away from regional coverage. Making every golf shot of a tournament available to fans gives them complete control in deciding who they want to watch and when they want to watch. In an increasingly on demand world, there’s not much more golf fans could ask for than that.