Upon the conclusion of Fox’s debut U.S. Open coverage last June, a prominent television producer emailed me with a five-word critique: “A disaster on every level.”
As I’ve written before: Of all the major and minor sports—and those tags are obviously subjective—golf is the one I probably watch the least. I tune into the majors because I find those events compelling, but I am not a week-to-week consumer of the product. Any thoughts from me on a golf telecast should always be considered under that framework. It was one of the reason I asked a colleague from SI’s Golf Plus to critique Fox’s coverage from Chambers Bay last year, in addition to my own thoughts. Here is how my colleague Dick Friedman led his review last June:
Fox’s much-anticipated (and, in some quarters, dreaded) inaugural telecast of the U.S. Open had as many severe ups and downs (and humps and bumps) as Chambers Bay, the crazy-quilt and thus seemingly telegenic course it was displaying. There was tantalizing technology: a rolling camera that “chased” the golfers as they strode down the first fairway, shrewdly placed on-course mics, a tracer to track drives, schematics and arrows to show where balls would funnel, superimposed numbers to indicate how far shots needed to carry. There was even a drone. And there was a fresh squadron of announcers, headed by All-Pro anchor Joe Buck and lead analyst Greg Norman, one of the sport’s most charismatic figures.
But did it work? Only sometimes. The Open upstart will have to go some to match the crisp standard set by NBC (and especially its famously blunt analyst Johnny Miller) during its 20-year run.
Last June I hosted a roundtable with golf and media writers on what Fox could do better for 2016. It’s interesting to read now leading up to Fox’s 2016 coverage. Live coverage begins Thursday, on Fox and FS1, with more than 36 hours of airtime scheduled through Sunday.
Something particularly interesting on this subject was just how ticked off Fox Sports officials were at what they perceived as piling on their U.S. Open coverage. The network was excoriated by the golf press and sports media writers, and on social media. One story that really bothered them—given the power of the publication—was in The New York Times. The headline: “Fox Makes Its Debut at the Open, and at Times It Seems Like an Amateur.”
Such feelings continue today, as evidenced by comments lead host Joe Buck made during a recent conference call to promote this week’s coverage. “Going into last year’s U.S. Open and coming out of last year’s U.S. Open, I’ve never been more proud of an event that we’ve covered at Fox, period,” said Buck. “I refuse to come on here and apologize for 2015, that’s ridiculous. The critics who were unkind, that’s not a news flash, that’s kind of the way of the world and when you start, you’ve got to earn your position. And until you’ve done it, you’ve got no idea what it takes to do that.”
I understand and respect why Buck is defending his colleagues, but even for a casual golf watcher such as myself, it was clear there were basic elements missed, along with some poor staffing decisions on front-facing talent. That doesn’t take away from hard work done by those behind the scenes who set up the production, nor would any person of reasonable intellect believe Fox Sports didn’t want to put on a great product for viewers in the first year of its 12-year U.S. Open rights deal. But the coverage wasn’t good, and I expect it to be much better this year with a different group of analysts led by Paul Azinger and Curtis Strange. There is also this: Last year’s Chambers Bay links-style course didn’t do Fox any favors on aesthetics and Oakmont should be much better on that end.
My pal Jeff Ritter at Golf.com did a deep dive on Fox’s upcoming plans for the U.S. Open including interviews with Fox golf officials and a chronicle of what went wrong last time. I highly recommend it because it’s much better than what I would give you.
The Noise Report
1. I talked to Craig Sager about working Game 6 of the NBA Finals as a sideline reporter for ABC. Something worth noting: Sager underwent eight days of chemotherapy at Houston’s MD Anderson after the end of Western Conference Finals. The only NBA Finals game he could work because of his treatment was Game 6. The Cavaliers road win in Game 5 made it happen.
2. As expected, it was a rough Stanley Cup Final when it came to television viewership. The six-game series drew 3.948 million, the lowest since the Kings-Devils in 2012 drew 3.01 million. Sports Business Daily reported the Penguins-Sharks was down 29% from 5.55 million viewers last year for Blackhawks-Lightning, the second most-watched Stanley Cup Final on record (dating back to 1994).
2a. Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final drew the highest total, averaging 5.407 million viewers. NBC said it was the most-watched Stanley Cup Final game without an Original Six team and peaked with nearly 6.9 million viewers (6.851 million) from 10:30–10:45 p.m. ET.
2b. NBC Sports said across all 89 games on NBC/NBCSN/CNBC/USA Network, the Stanley Cup Playoffs averaged 1.227 million viewers.
2c. The top 10 markets for the 2016 Stanley Cup Final:
2. San Fran/Oakland/San Jose
4. Minneapolis-St. Paul
6. West Palm Beach
T8. St. Louis
2d. The Mexican national team Copa America matches have averaged 4.9 million viewers on Univision. Big number.
2e. The 2016 NBA Finals has averaged 18.03 million viewers on ABC through five games, according to Nielsen. That’s down 7% from 19.28 million viewers through the same point of the Warriors-Cavaliers series last year, according to Sports Business Daily. The series is on pace to be the second-best NBA Finals audience on record for ABC, behind last year.
2f. Via Roy Firestone: My Regrets About How I Asked O.J. Simpson About Domestic Abuse
2g. Here are Fox’s technology plans for the 2016 U.S. Open
3. Episode 62 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features ESPN broadcaster Brent Musburger, 77, who last month reached a multiyear contract extension with ESPN. He will remain the signature college football voice of the SEC Network and continue with college basketball assignments. “Someone had to stay at ESPN,” Musburger said. “We can’t all head for the exits.”
As part of the podcast, Musburger discussed why he re-signed with ESPN; calling games for the SEC Network; how he was ahead of the curve on discussing gambling on broadcasts, and other issues. Musburger said he misses calling the national college football championship game but said ESPN “had to move on and get younger and they did.”
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI’s podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at me. Hope you enjoy.
4. Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand had an interesting note in a recent column on the fallacy of young people not staying up for sporting events (or their parents keeping them up). Ourand cited Artie Bulgrin, ESPN’s senior vice president of global research and analytics, who said the NBA Finals’ Game 1 ratings that showed that the 11:30 p.m. ET rating for kids 2–11 was 18% higher than it was at 9 p.m. ET. With teens, the 11:30 p.m. ET rating was 34% higher.
“It’s hard to argue against the 9 p.m. start time during the week, when you want to make sure that people are ready to watch television,” Bulgrin told Ourand. “The fact of the matter is that television viewing has shifted. More and more people are staying up late to watch their favorite shows. In this case, we have to have a bicoastal view on things.”
4a. The Boston Globe Magazine’s Chad Finn profiled former AOL Digital City Boston writer, Bill Simmons
4b. A quote from Simmons that stood out in the interview: “If [ESPN] wanted to keep Grantland, they would have. They’ve kind of designed the company where everyone is replaceable. It’s very Belichickian.”
4c. The New York Times also profiled Simmons and here’s something in the piece that stood out from ESPN president John Skipper: “Bill would rather spin conspiracy theories and be perceived as a martyr than take responsibility for his own actions. Let me be unequivocal and clear and take responsibility for my actions: I alone made the decision, and it had nothing to do with his comments about the [NFL] commissioner [Roger Goodell]. I severed our relationship with Bill because of his repeated lack of respect for this company and, more importantly, the people who work here.”
5. It was interesting to read Skipper’s comments in The New York Times on the same day that one of his high-profile and highest-paid employees, Skip Bayless, called LeBron James a b---- on Twitter. One could argue that an ESPN staffer calling a four-time NBA MVP the b-word on a public medium is a lack of respect for ESPN NBA reporters such as Chris Broussard, Dave McMenamin, Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein, who have to interview people such as James on a daily or near-daily basis. One might also observe that while Simmons was suspended three weeks without pay for calling Roger Goodell a “liar” (among other things), Bayless was on ESPN’s air the next day. All of those who talk about selective punishment at ESPN are absolutely correct, and the examples never end.