Tuesday, July 22, 2008

British Open Media Round-Up

If you're a regular to this blog or my writing, you know I like to cover the golf media itself. It's fascinating to me. Without Tiger Woods around, we knew the ratings were going to take a hit for the Open. Also, the time difference between the US and Britain messes things up significantly. Ole reliable Thomas Bonk has the TV numbers:

The Absent Tiger Factor is here and it's awful to behold.

Case 3: British Open. Not good. The overnight ratings for ABC's final round coverage Sunday fell 14.6%, from a 4.1 to a 3.5.

None of this is good news, despite the intriguing British Open story lines of Greg Norman trying to hold it together at age 53, and Padraig Harrington coming through to win his second consecutive Open title.
Still, 15% is not bad considering that PGA Tour events generally drop by 25% or more from fields in which there is a Tiger sighting.

How about the media coverage of the event? In the States, we had TNT do early round and early weekend coverage. ABC's crew took on the weekend coverage in primer time. Sal Johnson seemed very high on their work - particularly of Ian Baker-Finch.

The difference of having Baker-Finch was night and day, I think that he had his best performance of his decade long television career this week. Maybe it was because he was returning to the British Open, something that is close to Ian's heart, maybe it was returning to Birkdale no matter he was great to listen to and worked great with Ernie Johnson, who seemed a lot better with Ian.

He also goes on to talk about the ABC crew - who I personally love.
Listening to Mike Tirico, Paul Azinger, Judy Rankin, Terry Gannon, Tom Rinaldi and Andy North this week is a shame that we only get them once a year, they are great and give us a great change of pace over having to listen to Nick Faldo all the time, who frankly I am getting sick of listening to so much.

Thanks goodness Faldo wasn't on the ABC show, he was replace by Tom Watson, who did a credible job but he has to work hard for any future as a broadcaster. You see Watson is a bit shy in jumping in and being a announcer, he needs the help of a Tirico to set him up. Watson gave some of the spark that producers were hoping for like Johnny Miller does, but unfortunely Watson was over shadowed by Azinger who was on top of his game.

What many don't give Azinger credit for was being the back bone of the Azinger/Faldo booth experience. When ABC lost golf, Azinger lost interest in TV but Faldo pursued it and was lucky enough to steal away the CBS job from Lanny Wadkins. Frankly I can only hope that Azinger will be able to steal the Ryder Cup away from Faldo in a couple of months and if the folks at CBS, NBC or even Golf Channel are smart they would put Azinger in the booth were he belongs.

Azinger gave us a lot of great moments and frank talk about things like Harrington winning, Norman's collapse and the storyline of playing golf on links courses. Of course there is no need to talk about Tirico, he is the best in the business and again it's a shame to just see him do early round coverage of the other majors that ESPN does.

As for the telecast, a lot of good production value with actor Gary Oldman doing a lot of the scene set pieces, teases and rejoins from commercial. I also love Tom Rinaldi, he is a top notch interviewer and a pretty good writer on pieces. If the new management at Golf Channel want some fresh people for their telecasts, I would tell them to try and figure out a way to get both Rinaldi, who would improve their post game shows and Terry Gannon, who would be a perfect host to replace Kelly once she is gone from that perch.

That last paragraph could not be more true. Both are underutilized by the Worldwide Leader and both could get a serious rub at the Golf Channel.

Also, some news to report on the broadcasting front - ESPN is reportedly going to get all four rounds of the Open starting in 2010. That means goodbye to TNT for the British. That also likely means that the PGA Championship and the Grand Slam of Golf will go to someone else in a few years (2011).

First, from Sal's column:
ESPN will not only take over the Thursday and Friday coverage, but they will replace the ABC Saturday and Sunday at St. Andrews.. In another move that was announced last month, Turner has also lost the Presidents Cup to Golf Channel, which for the viewer will be a downgrade. Now they still will do the PGA Championship and the Grand Slam, but with the momentum of ESPN wanting to get the early round coverage of all four majors and the Ryder Cup going to ESPN, TNT could also lose the PGA once that contract is up in a couple of years.
Then from Jon Show:

According to several sources familiar with the talks, ESPN and British Open organizer R&A are in the final stages of cutting a seven-year deal worth about $25 million a year that would put all four rounds on the cable network. The deal, which could be several weeks away from being finalized, also would include a batch of international and digital rights.

Turner Sports initially bid to renew its package for the first two rounds, but it was not willing to match ESPN’s offer, sources said.

I've been reporting on this very transparent strategy for over a year now, but it's good to see the rest of the media catching up on it.

Now back with Sal stirring the pot on his lamentations about TNT going by the wayside for golf, and how they could get back in the game:
The shame of all this is that TNT should still be televising golf, even if it's a deal with the LPGA, which doesn't look possible. Another shame, the folks at TNT are great to work for and like to spend a dollar or two, why the PGA Tour didn't utilize them more instead of going 100% with Golf Channel is way past my thinking. One thing that I would suggest, the European Tour is not happy at the coverage of their telecasts in which Golf Channel in a cost move to save $5 million dollars a year is making a mockery of those telecasts, the European Tour should try to lure someone like TNT to do those telecasts and we could again get first class treatment of the European Tour. In talking with George O'Grady, who runs the European Tour, he is now aware of the terrible Golf Channel shows and has some meeting planned with Golf Channel executives so hopefully they will fix the problem or hopefully find someone else to do them, TNT would be a great home.
Great recap from Sal - a man who was in the business of golf media and still has a lot of great contacts. Between Sal's insights and Jon Show's up to the second reporting, you should be able to get a great idea about golf media.

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