Network TV Golf Coverage

Missing from this week’s analysis: the number of times the announcers make stupid comments. Gary McCord talks too fast for me to keep an accurate count.

The Numbers Game“They always show Tiger even when he’s not in contention.”

“I want to see more golf. Less jibber-jabbering and network promos, more actual golf shots.”

“Why do they always show people walking around when other players are hitting golf shots?”

No doubt you’ve heard golf fans complaining about network coverage of PGA Tour events. This weekend, I put CBS on the clock and took notes on their network coverage of the inaugural AT&T National. The results… well they may not surprise you, but they do shed some light on the subject.

Actual Coverage
TV coverage on Sunday ran from 3:00 to 6:30. K.J. Choi finished just about on time (despite the last two groups being well behind pace for most of the afternoon). I charted stop and start times for golf coverage, and here is how things shook out:

Start    End    Time
-----   ----    ----
3:04    3:15    0:11
3:18    3:24    0:06
3:27    3:28    0:01
3:31    3:38    0:07
3:40    3:43    0:03
3:45    4:00    0:15
4:03    4:12    0:09
4:15    4:19    0:04
4:22    4:33    0:11
4:35    4:41    0:06
4:43    4:49    0:06
4:52    5:02    0:10
5:04    5:10    0:06
5:14    5:22    0:08
5:24    5:34    0:10
5:37    5:44    0:07
5:46    5:51    0:05
5:53    5:58    0:05
6:01    6:03    0:02
6:05    6:10    0:05
6:13    6:15    0:02
6:18    6:27    0:09
        ----    ----
       Total    2:28
         Avg    0:06

So, of the 210 minutes of allotted coverage, 148 minutes were golf coverage (or not commercials, anyway). That means 62 minutes of the 210 were commercials, or a whopping 29.52%. A small percentage was the “Lincoln Financial CBS Sports Update Report,” but the rest were commercials… and I tallied in-coverage network promos separately.

Throughout the 3½ hours, commercials interrupted coverage 21 times. The average length of time between commercials was a paltry six minutes. Towards the end of coverage, when few people with chances to win remained on the course, we saw coverage lasting two to five minutes five out of the last six times.

Throughout the coverage, I tracked the number of strokes – both shots and putts – as well as the number of network promos (i.e. “This Monday, catch an all new Crap Reality Show, only on CBS, America’s number one network.”) and “other” stuff (interviews, SwingVision tutorials, etc.). Here’s how those numbers shook out (SPM = Strokes per Minute):

Start    End    Time    Shots    Putts    Total    SPM
-----   ----    ----    -----    -----    -----    ----
3:04    3:15    0:11      7        9       16      1.45
3:18    3:24    0:06      6        2        8      1.33
3:27    3:28    0:01      3        -        3      3.00
3:31    3:38    0:07      6        5       11      1.57
3:40    3:43    0:03      3        3        6      2.00
3:45    4:00    0:15      9       12       21      1.40
4:03    4:12    0:09      9        6       15      1.67
4:15    4:19    0:04      3        -        3      0.75
4:22    4:33    0:11      6        7       13      1.18
4:35    4:41    0:06      3        6        9      1.50
4:43    4:49    0:06      7        3       10      1.67
4:52    5:02    0:10      8        8       16      1.60
5:04    5:10    0:06      5        1        6      1.00
5:14    5:22    0:08      6        7       13      1.63
5:24    5:34    0:10      7        7       14      1.40
5:37    5:44    0:07      5        4        9      1.29
5:46    5:51    0:05      3        2        5      1.00
5:53    5:58    0:05      2        4        6      1.20
6:01    6:03    0:02      2        1        3      1.50
6:05    6:10    0:05      5        -        5      1.00
6:13    6:15    0:02      2        3        5      2.50
6:18    6:27    0:09      2        5        7      0.78
       -----    ----    ---       --      ---      ----
       Total    2:28    109       95      204      1.47

In two hours and 28 minutes of network golf coverage, we saw 204 total shots, 95 of which were putts (including a healthy dose of tap-ins). That averages out to only 1.47 shots per minute of coverage, or roughly one shot every 40.8 seconds. If you think about it, that’s not much golf. When you mix in the fact that there were interviews and other things being shown, well, it starts to look a little better. But not much.

How many of the shots were of Tiger Woods? How many were replays? Here are those numbers:

Start    End    Time    Total    Delay    Tiger
-----   ----    ----    -----    -----    -----
3:04    3:15    0:11     16        2        3
3:18    3:24    0:06      8        2        2
3:27    3:28    0:01      3        -        1
3:31    3:38    0:07     11        2        3
3:40    3:43    0:03      6        -        1
3:45    4:00    0:15     21        1        3
4:03    4:12    0:09     15        1        2
4:15    4:19    0:04      3        1        3
4:22    4:33    0:11     13        1        1
4:35    4:41    0:06      9        1        2
4:43    4:49    0:06     10        1        3
4:52    5:02    0:10     16        -        3
5:04    5:10    0:06      6        1        1
5:14    5:22    0:08     13        1        1
5:24    5:34    0:10     14        1        2
5:37    5:44    0:07      9        -        -
5:46    5:51    0:05      5        -        -
5:53    5:58    0:05      6        -        -
6:01    6:03    0:02      3        -        -
6:05    6:10    0:05      5        -        -
6:13    6:15    0:02      5        -        -
6:18    6:27    0:09      7        -        -
       -----    ----    ---       --       --
       Total    2:28    204       15       31

Of Tiger’s 70 strokes on Sunday, we saw 31, despite the fact that he was never really anywhere near contending for the title. He was, of course, the tournament host, but I don’t personally feel as though he was shown playing golf any more or less than he would normally be shown given his tee time 40 minutes before the leaders.

Of course, Tiger finished well ahead of the leaders, and the line in the chart above shows the point at which he finished. To that point, we’d seen 164 shots, 31 of which were Tiger’s. That’s a fairly high percentage: 18.9%. Is Tiger Woods, not in contention, worthy of nearly 20% of the coverage? You decide.

Finally, 15 shots were shown on tape delay. Of course the number could easily be higher – I could only accurately mark something in this category when an announcer said “earlier, at the 16th hole” or “just a moment ago.” They may have tricked us several other times into thinking we were seeing live golf without our knowledge.

Promos and “Others”
Networks love to use their sports events to pitch their other shows, and the best time to do this is right after commercial. As we come back from the break, we often see beautiful pictures of the golf course, over which a small video for Two and a Half Men or CSI:Miami pops up. Jim Nantz intones something about how great the show will be, and how you should tune in to watch.

Likewise, much of golf coverage isn’t actually showing golf: it’s interviews with the tournament sponsor and/or host, it’s special segments on some of the players in contention, or it’s Peter Kostis breaking down someone’s swing with the BizHub Something or Other SwingVision camera.

How often do each of these types of things interrupt golf coverage? Not as often as you might think, perhaps:

Start    End    Time    Promo     Other
-----   ----    ----    -----     -----
3:04    3:15    0:11      -         3
3:18    3:24    0:06      -         1
3:27    3:28    0:01      -         -
3:31    3:38    0:07      1         1
3:40    3:43    0:03      1         -
3:45    4:00    0:15      -         2
4:03    4:12    0:09      -         1
4:15    4:19    0:04      -         2
4:22    4:33    0:11      -         3
4:35    4:41    0:06      -         -
4:43    4:49    0:06      1         1
4:52    5:02    0:10      1         -
5:04    5:10    0:06      2         1
5:14    5:22    0:08      1         1
5:24    5:34    0:10      -         1
5:37    5:44    0:07      2         2
5:46    5:51    0:05      -         1
5:53    5:58    0:05      -         1
6:01    6:03    0:02      -         1
6:05    6:10    0:05      1         1
6:13    6:15    0:02      1         -
6:18    6:27    0:09      1         1
       -----    ----     --        --
       Total    2:28     12        24

Over 22 segments, we saw only 12 network promos (though I can’t remember a single one) and 24 “other” segments, a few of which were actually entertaining (mainly the SwingVision stuff). So, over 3:30 (or 2:28 of actual golf coverage), we were interrupted only 36 times. That’s not too shabby.

The Pro Side
We’ve often heard that pros miss putts high. That side even has a nickname: “the pro side,” as in “I missed that one on the pro side of the hole.”

It turns out that the pro side may not be where you think it is.

I saw 95 putts in Sunday’s coverage of the AT&T National. Of the 95 putts, 48 either went in or were so miserable that I could not judge whether they’d missed high or low (usually putts that came up well short). Of those that reached the hole – or at least got close enough to make a determination, you may be surprised at what side of the hole they favored:

Putts    High     Low
-----    ----     ---
 9        1        2
 2        0        1
 0        0        0
 5        1        3
 3        1        1
12        0        5
 6        1        2
 0        0        0
 7        1        2
 6        2        1
 3        1        1
 8        2        3
 1        0        0
 7        2        2
 7        1        3
 4        0        1
 2        0        1
 4        2        1
 1        0        0
 0        0        0
 3        0        1
 5        1        1
--       --       --
95       16       31

The pros missed low nearly twice as often as they missed high! So much for “the pro side” of the cup. Granted, this is hardly a statistically significant number of putts. A truly thorough study would track every putt on all sorts of courses, on each day of the week, and off the putters of all players. All this tells us is that pros shown putting on TV one particular Sunday were missing low far more often than they missed high.

So, the next time you get jeered for missing on the amateur side, set your buddy straight. Tell him you missed on the same side of the hole as Jim Furyk, K.J. Choi, Tiger Woods, Mike Weir, and Stuart Appleby. Then tap in for your double and get on to the next hole – people are waiting!

21 thoughts on “Network TV Golf Coverage”

  1. Well done report.
    I usually have live leaderboard up while I watch golf on TV.
    Many times the scoreboard shows that a player has already hit his tee shot on the next hole and the network is showing his last putt with no mention that it is tape delay.

  2. The high/low assessment on putts I find very interesting. This speaks to Dave Pelz’ adamant assertion that everybody aims too low. I think he even made a whole video once to prove his point with his typical mind-numbing engineer’s data overkill.

    But, that said, I also think you’re right, Erik, when you say this was not statistically significant. The greens at Congressional looked particularly befuddling to the field this week. Missing high or low is as much about speed as line and I think the players never really had the speed locked in.

    Great piece. Network coverage stinks. And you’re also right that we’re seeing more tape delayed shots than are acknowledged by the announcers.

  3. Nice analysis, I remember thinking how nice it would be to see some play by other than the same 5-6 players instead of listening to announcer voice overs (not even promos for other shows). Fans have interest in other players, too.

    Everyone knows networks show Tiger, even when out of contention, to near exclusion of everyone else, but it’s hard to complain when it’s his event and he is the main reason behind the interest. (A local radio station with a booth at Congresional commented how Appleby, Choi and others walked through the tets on the way to tee without so much as a glance from the public.) Seems to me the networks would realize it’s in theirlong-term interest to promote fan interest in other players because Tiger isn’t/won’t be always playing.

  4. Very interesting. I’ve never charted a day of PGA Tour golf like that, but I’ve surely had my suspicions. That’s why I (virtually) always DVR the tournament, then start watching (from the beginning) about an hour or so after the broadcast starts, fast-forwarding through much of the telecast. For example, I fast-forward when I see talking heads, when I see players walking down the fairway, during interviews (unless it’s someone I want to see AND ALWAYS FAST-FORWARD WHEN THEY’RE INTERVIEWING A SPOKESPERSON FOR ONE OF THE TOURNAMENT SPONSORS), commercials, promos and many other things that don’t involve showing a golfer with a club in his/her hands.

  5. Seems to me the networks would realize it’s in their long-term interest to promote fan interest in other players because Tiger isn’t/won’t be always playing.

    By the time Tiger stops playing, most of those other players you want them to promote wouldn’t be playing, either. And 10-15 years from now is a looooong way off in terms of network television.

  6. I’ve always thought there are far, far too many commercial interruptions, and you’ve now proven it. For CBS coverage of a regular tour event, anyway.

    Anyone think they show too much putting? Or too many long reads and preparations for putting? This is where I like the tape delay, because it can allow us to skip some of the fluff. That is, unless it’s a crucial putt by a leader, in which you want to see it live.

  7. By the time Tiger stops playing, most of those other players you want them to promote wouldn’t be playing, either. And 10-15 years from now is a looooong way off in terms of network television.

    Not simply a question of stopping altogether – Tiger limits his tournament play already (10 events this year so far). Presumably networks would prefer to create interest in events he misses for which they sell ad time.

  8. Not simply a question of stopping altogether – Tiger limits his tournament play already (10 events this year so far). Presumably networks would prefer to create interest in events he misses for which they sell ad time.

    It simply doesn’t make sense for them to care about other players. Hard-core golf fans watch events in which Tiger isn’t playing. That won’t change. A non-golf fan is not going to be turned into a golf fan by learning more about Ted Purdy or Brian Bateman. If you have more discussion on this, please take it to the forum. We’ve had a few threads about this type of thing before, including one just last week.

  9. Are some of these issues partly the result of economic and technological limitations? A golf course is a huge area to cover. Competetion is spread out and more than one player is almost always making a swing. The time from the start to the end of a golf swing is brief and the exact moment the golfer starts his swing not entirely predictable (no clock). The golf ball moves great distances in the air and is small and white, you see where I am going. Other sports have more controlled space and time elements. To catch more of the action probably would require lots of money, equipment and personnel.

    As for commercials all TV shows have to many, and daytime and late night shows are the worst. Maybe that is part of the reason the Masters is so enjoyable on TV, fewer commercials!

  10. In the mid 90’s I spent several years as a line producer on NBC-TV’s New York morning show “Today in New York”. I can tell you that a 30% spot load is not unusual for any show. (A telling anecdote about the industry: programmers divide each show into “content” and “filler”. “Content” is the SPOTS.) TV is a for-profit business after all, and will look to maximize its profits to the extent that traffic will allow. If ratings are high enough for a show that sells 20 minutes of commercials every hour (or if the ratings are in the high enough end of the demographic $cale) then the station has no incentive to lessen its profits by doing otherwise.

    Networks love to use their sports events to pitch their other shows…

    To be honest, networks use almost ALL their shows to hawk their other wares.

    I loved your analysis, btw. Excellent primary research, and from it you produced a very entertaining and compelling presentation.

    Ever think of working for NBC programming…? 😉

  11. Great study! I don’t want to whinge but as an Aussie golf lover, we often wait with eager anticipation to see the little leaderboard pop up, as our guys (and other non-US players), can often be in contention for long periods and yet get very little screen time, sometimes literally none until the token 18th green coverage. Agree with Allin above, it’s not practical to have cameras everywhere, what did the TV producers do before Tiger?!

  12. God bless you my man for enduring through that tedious task Sunday. I knew that lots of opportunity existed for improvement of golf on TV, from any network, but I had no idea it was this bad.


  13. As Jonno said, as an Aussie trying to keep up with our guys playing it is nigh on impossible. Many times thios year, there has been an Aussie in contention but we never see a single shot played even though the players are paired with Tiger or Phil Mickelson.

    In the first round of the AT&T last week. I was watching the leaderboards and noticed Stuart Appleby had made three birds in a row to be equal leader, but saw none of it. Now I love watching Tiger play and would like to see him any time but when drama is building at the pointy end of the field, it would be great to concentrate on that.

    Also, I have seen enough flowers, plants and lakes. We get to see endless shots of these but not enough golf!!

  14. I think the endless shots of a water hazard and the like are the fault of Aussie Fox Sports as TGC/CBS would be showing an ad at that time. I am another avid fan who gets annoyed when you know there is an Aussie creeping up the leaderboard without a shot of theirs being shown.

  15. Nice report.

    I’m digusted with all the commercials, blabbering, and other antics during golf coverage…you’d think The Golf Channel would do a little better job of showing more golf…but they are just as bad. As Tom pointed out, TV is a “for-profit” business…

    The best thing that’s come along is DVR technology.

  16. Wonderful analysis.

    It is interesting that 20% of the televised golf shots were of Tiger. It feels like it is closer to 50%. The only other statistic I am curious about is Tiger’s screen time over the course of a broadcast…. I wonder if you logged that as well? It seems like we wind up watching Tiger smile after good shots, grimace after bad shots, read putts, towel off his forehead, drink bottled water, etc. far more than any other player. Most of the time he is in contention so I understand it, but this weekend I couldn’t help wonder who else’s shot I might be missing because I was watching Tiger stroll down the fairway while Jim Nantz went on and on about how good he was.

    If I had to guess I would say the typical broadcast breaks down to about 30% commercials (as you illustrated), 30% Tiger, and 40% everyone else. The percentage would be even higher if you accounted for the fact that most of the commercials feature Tiger too!

  17. Nice Report. When i watch golf i want to see less tiger, less tap ins, i want to see the players in contention, and good shots. however, on cbs i really enjoy the swing vision camera, it is really cool watching those beautiful swings in slow motion.

  18. I think its fun to watch how quickly they kill off most players from coverage on a Sunday.

    Sure we don’t want to see anyone collapse (unless its a certain frenchman) but it seems after a bad hole they give up on players pretty easily and bury them quickly.

    I always enjoy on a Sunday when someone is killed off in the first few holes to make a comeback and suddenly on 16 they are alive and back in it.

    I wonder what the coverage rule is for SOTLNTOP’s (shots off the lead not Tiger or Phil) and what algorithm they use to determine who can becomes a zombie and visit us late in coverage from beyond.

    I’m sure there is a formula.

  19. Great analysis! Next time why not add a count of how many times we get to see the rear end of a player as he or she bends over to take the ball out of the whole. What’s with that?

  20. Wow!.
    I have no idea how I missed out on reading this article much earlier.
    The putting analysis was real good. 95 putts on a sunday is statistically good enough for me. Now I think I started missing many putts high after getting that bit of rubbish in my head. I can’t count how many times I have missed high playing imagined breaks on short uphill putts lately. Thanks Erik.

  21. I have been watching the tour pros continue to take the flag out of the hole when they are off the green. This tactic is contrary to the information presented by Dave Pelz in his short game book. His stastical analysis is based on extensive impirical research and is backed up by attentive observation of golf balls hitting the pin at various speeds. It is unquestionable advantageous to leave the pin in in almost all situations. I have observed that every golf announcer enorses the pulled pin policy. Is there some reason that the best players in the world are allowing myth to supersede reality?

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