Today the 2007 PGA Tour schedule officially kicks off with the start of the Mercedes in Hawaii. It is also the tour’s first year under a new television deal that will see most weekday rounds shown on the Golf Channel.
Now, with the exception of old repeats of Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, and the Big Break when it was held at Carnoustie, I rarely watch the Golf Channel. That might sound strange to some, but watching infomercials of new clubs designed to cut down on my non-existant slice isn’t my idea of a good time.
The problem is worsened in Canada by the decision on the part of cable providers Rogers and Shaw to move the Golf Channel to part of their digital package — thus most Canadians don’t even get the channel (well covered by Bob Weeks here.) I’d love to see numbers on how many Canadians actually have access to it.
According to a column by the Orlando Sentinel’s Steve Elling, we’re not the only one tuning out, especially when compared to golf’s previous reach on ESPN.
The undisputed heavyweight king of cable sports, ESPN is carried in 92 million homes, while the Golf Channel logs in at 75 million. However, those numbers don’t represent much other than unfulfilled potential if nobody is watching.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the average number of people who watched the Golf Channel at any moment in a 24-hour broadcast day during the 2006 fall season was a minuscule 44,000 people or 1.1 million fewer people below ESPN’s average in the same time frame.
Noted gadfly — and former PGA Championship winner — Paul Azinger, had this to say:
“You go into any restaurant or bar in America and the TV is tuned to ESPN,” said Paul Azinger, a former ESPN analyst. “It would have been better to give it (broadcast rights) away and carried it on ESPN.”
Steve Flesch had a similar experience:
Veteran Steve Flesch said that during one stretch on the tour in 2006, he stayed six weeks in a row at hotels that didn’t carry the Golf Channel on its TV menu. Thus, players fear the tour is going to lose the general sports fan, viewers who instinctively flip to ESPN first to take the measure of the sporting landscape.
But don’t worry — “Johnny Joe Sidewalk” will find his way to the Golf Channel soon enough, even if it requires an expensive cable upgrade in large parts of Canada. That Kelly Tilghman — besides having the huskiest voice in sports — she has a way with words:
It might take some time to build numbers,” said Kelly Tilghman, who will assume the lead play-by-play role. “Johnny Joe Sidewalk may not tune in during Week 1 or Year 1. But if people are wondering, ‘Where is Tiger Woods playing today, where is Phil Mickelson, or Michelle Wie? The Golf Channel? Let me find that.’
Michelle Wie? How out of touch is Tilghman? Or maybe she’s saying no one will get to see Wie play without the Golf Channel, since the teenager won’t be seeing the weekend in a PGA Tour event any time soon.
Elling’s full story is here.
As Geoff Shackelford notes, here are the actual viewing numbers (the number of people tuned in at any one time) for a variety of sports channels. Pay attention to that Golf Channel spot — where it is actually lower than pro hockey in the U.S. I guess sports fans aren’t any more fond of infomercials than I am:
Network Sport Avg. viewers
ESPN Multiple 1,153,000
ESPN2 Multiple 324,000
NFL Network Pro football 119,000
Speed Channel Auto racing 117,000
Versus Pro hockey 75,000
ESPN Classic Sports history 66,000
ESPN News Sports news 62,000
Golf Channel Golf coverage 44,000
In Canada, CanWest Global — my overlords at the National Post — will have coverage rights for a handful of events for the weekend. But it appears if you are looking to watch the Mercedes tonight — you’ll either have the Golf Channel, or you won’t be watching golf.