Innovation Fail: The U.S. Open On Fox
I planned a rare treat for myself on Father’s Day. Having celebrated with my son the night before, I decided that I’d spend the afternoon watching golf on TV. I love sports, just about all of them, and I love watching sports on TV. But it’s just not in my nature to sit and “do nothing.” I’d rather be out exercising, working, seeing a movie or involved in some kind of activity.
Not on this day! I tuned in just after the leaders teed off at 3PM Pacific Time, settled in on the couch and was ready for four hours of golf action! Yet after just a few minutes, I felt strangely uncomfortable. Not only was I having no fun, but what was planned as an indulgence quickly started to border on the painful.
For several minutes just after I tuned in, Fox imposed two smaller TV screens over a distracting background that looked like a Windows screen saver from hell. One of the two inserted boxes cut between the leaders as usual, while the other followed Jason Day with a hand-held camera. (More on Jason in a moment.) The problem was, there was no announcing. Fox had intended to be in the moment with Jason, bringing us an intimate live portrait of what was going through his mind, but it was just Jason and his caddy walking silently from green to tee. No drama. Not great television.
For a moment I thought they were having technical difficulties due to the silence and the weird screen saver. Finally, they switched back to a full screen view, announcers starting announcing, and it seemed like a normal golf broadcast again.
Not for long. It was straight downhill after the poor start. The announcers were moronic. Joe Buck is a bad enough cliché artist when he does baseball and football, but he clearly doesn’t know anything about golf. He and his fellow announcers attempted to identify emerging storylines and fell flat each time. First, Rory McIroy, the “world’s number one player!” as we were constantly reminded, was forging an amazing come from behind victory! Not a chance. Brandon Snedeker is hot! He immediately fell apart. Then, it was aforementioned Jason Day, who collapsed on the course a few days before, a victim of a chronic vertigo. Here was Jason, struggling mightily, heroically putting himself in a position to win! Nope, wasn’t going to happen, no way. Rather than capturing his intense dedication, will to win and amazing focus in the face of all odds, the coverage seemed sadistic to me. It was as if they kept the camera on this poor guy for extended periods of time just hoping that he’d collapse in a heap again.
There’s a lot more I didn’t like about this broadcast, and the US Open Twitter feed and day-after reviews indicate that most agreed with my assessment.
However, walking back from lunch on Monday with a friend, who spontaneously started our conversation by saying, “Wasn’t that Fox coverage of the Open terrible?” I overheard three late 20’s or early 30’s looking guys having a different conversation.
“Wasn’t that coverage great? I really loved the technology! The graphics were amazing! I loved the ball tracker!”
This brief, anecdotal encounter begs a question. Is Fox on to something? More specifically, is Fox making a specific play for Millennials with an entirely different approach to this dying sport?
Now that would be an interesting story. You could tell they were experimenting with unusual camera angles and graphics, but I’d be surprised if the majority of Millennial golf fans (is that an oxymoron?) would agree that the broadcast even rose to the level of decent.
I happen to like golf broadcasts pretty much the way they are on the other broadcast networks and The Golf Channel. But I’m the old guard, and the sport of golf – which faces all kinds of cultural, environmental and other challenges – needs new blood. The Gen X/Boomer audience may still be huge, but golf knows it needs to grow.
Fox is new to golf, and the U.S. Open was its first major tournament broadcast. How great would it have been for Fox to truly revolutionize coverage the way ABC put its indelible stamp on football with its Monday Night broadcasts back in the early 1980’s?
How about different kinds of announcers? Who are the Howard Cosell’s and Dandy Don Meredith’s of golf? They’ve got to be out there. It’s nice to have experienced pro golfers as commentators (though Greg Norman was awful and others like Corey Pavin are not memorable), but by definition, these are the old guys, the usual suspects. Is there any way to infuse these broadcasts with some youthful energy?
The graphics were completely distracting to me, including the overused shot tracker. But again, I’m the Boomer, not the Millennial. Still, there’s got to be a lot more they can be doing with special effects and graphics that add value for seasoned golf fans while bringing the game to life for a new generation. And not just on television, but on social media as well. The NFL and NBA certainly understand that people follow games on multiple devices, watching and sharing thoughts at the same time.
The powers that be in the golf world, just like many aging packaged goods brands and the broadcast networks, understand that they are in the midst of an existential crisis. But the sport won’t win hearts and minds of new players and viewers with coverage like this. It was a great opportunity for Fox to put their own innovative stamp on the sport.
Unfortunately, it was a bungled attempt, failing both in a seeming effort to win over new fans and totally lacking in the competence expected by the traditional base.