Ryder Cup Review — The Coverage and Ads
For observers on the western side of the Atlantic, the 2018 Ryder Cup was not a good one. Yes, the Americans were thrashed, losing 17.5–10.5. Yes, the 6-hour time difference from France to the Eastern Time Zone meant that Tony Finau sent the first ball skyward around 2:10 A.M. over here.
But the issue that materially affected the vast number of golf fans who tuned into Golf Channel to watch the event was a far more basic one: it was damn near impossible to watch the golf.
And, lest you think that the ads were front-loaded on Friday:
The main nuggets from Andrew’s superbly thorough analysis of one of the event’s crucial hours (Saturday foursomes):
- 8 commercial breaks totaling 19:05 in ad time
- 13:30 of actual golf, including full shots, chips, putts, and pre-shot action within 15 seconds of a shot
- 27:25 of golf-adjacent material, including “ various promos, interviews, replays, player reactions, scoreboard reviews, or just general waiting while Johnny and Dan talked”
- Not one full swing from the DJ/Fowler v Stenson/Rose match
Criticizing the way networks televise and cover golf tournaments is old hat at this point. No Laying Up systematically aired out CBS for their coverage of the Northern Trust a few years ago, and Golf Digest’s breakdown of the shots vs commercials shown by TNT during this year’s PGA Championship feels like it could be a weekly segment at this point.
There are two crucial differences between those examples and this Ryder Cup.
There are only 24 players at the Ryder Cup.
Think about that. The PGA Tour’s smallest event is the Tour Championship, where 30 players tee it up. The event before that, the BMW Championship, hosts 70 competitors. World Golf Championship events have 78, the Masters this year had 87, and the Dell Tech (RIP TPC Boston, sorta) sports an even 100-player field.
At any one time during the Ryder Cup, there are a maximum of 24 players on the course. And that only happens during Sunday singles! For 2/3 of the event, all day Friday and Saturday, there are only four matches happening at once, with 16 players in action across no more than four holes!
In this context, those stats in the tweets above become even more staggering. There is simply no excuse to deprive the viewers of so much action when that action is spread across such a small number of players and holes.
When you attend regular stroke-play tournaments in person, you can choose to follow a group, pick a spot and post up, bounce around the course, or do some combination of the three. With so many players on the course, the odds of you actually witnessing a highlight-reel moment are relatively low. It’s more about the vibe, the course, and hopefully getting to see a few great shots.
Conversely, I attended the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, and apart from being an incredibly fun time, it was stressful. With so few matches happening, every roar from an adjacent hole produced an aching pang of FOMO, as we had a 25% chance of following that match and had simply guessed wrong.
Enter the magic of television. With so few players on the course, this feeling of missing a momentum-swinging moment should be completely alleviated, as with the flip of a switch, the broadcast can cut to whichever match is producing the highest drama at any moment. Alas, as we know from the tweets above, television didn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
And this is baffling, because…
Golf Channel televised the event!
I’m sorry, but if you call your network Golf Channel, shouldn’t you be catering to folks who, I don’t know, want to watch golf? This is a television company with the full backing of NBC Sports, one with years of of studio shows, game-improvement shows, reality programming, preview and recap coverage, and live golf under their belt. It is frankly embarrassing that viewers who tuned into Golf Channel at 2 A.M. Eastern on Thursday were treated to an early morning (and indeed, according to Andrew’s info, an entire day) of commercials, tape delay, promos, weird France tourism blurbs, and essentially everything but actual golf.
Golf Channel should be catering to the golf-obsessed oddballs who forgo sleep in order to watch Patrick Reed hit drives off the planet. There is nothing better as a fan or viewer than the feeling of inclusion. Twitter is great for the folks who are up and talking to each other during the witching hour, but the way a network can win a sports fan’s heart is to show that they care about their most passionate viewers. Encourage the commentators to mention the time difference and the hardy souls watching in the middle of the night. Create graphics showing what time it is in a player’s hometown at that moment (I can only imagine the lengths that Tony Finau’s Tongan and Samoan fans had to go to). But most importantly, show lots and lots of live golf shots.
It’s not like the Ryder Cup snuck up on people. Golf Channel had two full years between the 2016 event at Hazeltine and this one. They had enough time to coordinate travel, lodging, on-site studio setup, infrastructure, and all the myriad things that go into presenting a golf tournament. They even had ample time to shoot, edit, and air a seemingly endless series 15- to 30-second B-roll montages of famous French sites, which were thoughtfully presented at the end of every commercial break. So just when viewers had finally completed another run through the familiar Mastercard — US Bank — Michelob Ultra — Aflac — Craig and Sheila broke up — Michelob Ultra gauntlet and were straining their sleep-deprived senses for any sign of live golf, these little cultural hits really put the cherry on top of the frustration sundae.
Interlude: The Actual Golf Watching Experience Stunk Too!
VERY quick aside, as the ads were the real issue, but — WHERE WAS THE PROTRACER?? No sign of the crucial traj line on 1 tee, only the most-shown spot in the entire broadcast, and sparse usage across the rest of the course. Also, very little context or idea of where aim points were for certain shots off the tee, from the fairway, and especially on the tough recovery shots from the rough. How in God’s name is this possible with so much lead time and such a small event?
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ads
I’ve seen firsthand that advertisers pay the bills for golf networks. In college, I was an intern at a media buying company, and one of our clients was Titleist. Every Monday, a fellow intern got the tapes of the previous week’s PGA Tour event and had to watch every one, fast forwarding through the golf and combing through the commercials to make sure that the full complement of Titleist ads ran at their allotted times. So I get that there is serious money changing hands here, and the broadcast has to show these ads at some point.
Two brief points, and then I’ll get to my coping strategy.
First, wouldn’t you think the advertisers would want their spots run during better times? It seems to me that the folks watching from across the States in the middle of the night because they love golf and want to see as much of the Ryder Cup as possible are far more likely to develop a negative association with brands who advertise during the event than they are to be tempted to buy them. If I ran one of the companies advertising during the Ryder Cup, I’d want my spots to run when more (and more casual) fans were tuning in.
Secondly, couldn’t Golf Channel just do one massive ad break every hour or something? They should frame it like: Now’s your chance to go to the bathroom, re-tuck the kids in, put on another pot of coffee, and walk the dog, and we’ll be back in eight minutes with another half hour of golf. They could supplant it with live coverage on Twitter, or a “Playing Through” thing, or, God forbid, put the event on two channels at once! It’s not like anyone’s watching whatever the heck is on NBC Sports at 3 A.M.
OK, rant over. In honor of the commercials that overtook my drearily waking hours for three days last weekend, I compared each spot to something Ryder Cup related. Enjoy.
Alfa Romeo — “Look Away”
Jennifer Garner’s disembodied voice telling viewers to look away while hawking an Italian automobile sums up this Ryder Cup viewing experience perfectly.
U.S. Bank — Squirt
Over the course of three days, a yappy little pup gets overwhelmed and unable to deal with the loud noises and cramped thoroughfares of an unfamiliar environment, becoming tense and surly behind closed doors. His positive disposition returns upon being released into a lush, open space. Sound familiar?
Citi — Can We See a Real Whale Someday?
No YouTube link here, but you’ve seen it. It’s the one where the girl has a whale stuffed animal, asks if she can see a real whale, and her parents start putting every spare penny from their cashback Citi card towards taking that little pipsqueak to Vancouver to see an actual whale. An off-the-cuff request that is taken as gospel by the powers that be and leads to committing serious resources toward achieving that result, no matter the larger risk to the family’s financial health. Sound familiar?
Geico — Craig and Sheila Broke Up
In case you didn’t get the Spieth/Red reference above.
CoolSculpting — Ian Poulter
Watching Ian Poulter having a grand old time sitting on his ass while being literally dragged around a golf course might sum up this Ryder Cup viewing experience better than the Jennifer Garner thing.
Michelob Ultra Pure Gold
I feel like Mich Ultra slid in with a relatively mundane ad about some organic grain hogwash that goes into their newest beer, which is all well and good. But after every one of those ads came this one, featuring a caterwauling chorus and one prominent U.S. Ryder Cupper.
Suffice it to say that the “I like beer” tagline lost a good bit of its cache in light of recent events. I don’t really have a Ryder Cup parallel here, I just think it’s ironic timing.
Aflac — Good Break
In all my years of watching TV, I’ve probably seen upwards of 100 discrete Aflac commercials, and all of those dozens of times over. Yet I’m still not entirely sure what they do. Are they a separate insurance company that you use on top of your regular insurance? Are they just a regular insurance company that you can have as your primary provider? Why have I seen so many Aflac ads but know zero people who have used Aflac? It’s still a mystery. All I know for sure is there’s a large, white bird taking up valuable time and space on my screen when I could be watching golf. Sound familiar?