Fox Golf Coverage – “Exit, Stage Right!”

In a surprise move this week, Fox Sports announced that it was leaving the business of televised golf effective immediately.   Fox cut a deal this week and will hand-over its remaining 7-year contract obligations to NBC Sports to televise all United States Golf Association championship events beginning this year.

Fox Sports said that the C-Virus pandemic was going to cause a scheduling conflict as the June US Open event was being pushed into mid-September and smack dab in the middle of the network’s profitable NFL football schedule. 

Enter NBC.  The Peacock network agreed to take not only this year’s US Open event but walked away with all of the remaining years on Fox Sports’ golf contract with the USGA, too.

Ladies and gentlemen – Fox Sports has just exited the world of televised golf! 

If you’re a true golf fan, can I get a “Hallelujah!” right about now?

Beginning in 2015, Fox Sports obligated itself to a 12-year contract at a cost of nearly $100 million per year for the rights to telecast a number of USGA golf events.  Both the Men’s and Women’s US Open and US Amateur events were the cornerstones of the deal.  The men’s US Open had been covered by NBC for the previous 19 years.

Fox Sports stated that they were looking to revolutionize televised golf coverage as well as grab a share of the lucrative televised golf advertising market.

After Fox acquired the 12-year golf package, former USGA President Glen Nager was quoted as saying, “The game is evolving and requires bold and unique approaches on many levels, and Fox shares our vision to seek fresh thinking and innovative ideas to deliver championship golf.”

For the record, Glen Nager was fired soon after the new Fox golf deal was completed.  The rumor mill suggested that other USGA insiders believed both NBC and ESPN weren’t being given fair consideration during the negotiation process.  Who knows now? 

Any golf fan who has suffered through the first five years of US Open golf coverage on Fox and its pipsqueak cable outlet, FS1, noticed the changes. 

Perhaps Fox Sports had some grand ambitions, but they struck out on the basics.  Things as simple as picking a solid announcer team and having television cameras able to locate where a golf ball was going would have been a big help.

The initial year of 2015 was downright embarrassing for golf coverage on Fox.   

Fox Sports football and baseball anchor Joe Buck was enlisted to anchor the network’s golf coverage, too.  Though Buck said he played golf to about a 5-handicap, he seemed to have a rather limited knowledge of many players and even the rules of golf at times.

He talked.  A lot.  He apparently never learned the adage “Less is best” if you’re the lead golf announcer.

Making it worse, the network tabbed Hall-of-Fame golfer Greg Norman to be Buck’s sidekick analyst.  Fox Sports apparently believed that Greg Norman’s global name recognition along with his Australian accent and good looks were good enough to supplement Buck’s weaknesses. 

Unfortunately, Greg Norman seemed as uncomfortable in the television booth as he sounded on the air to the viewers at home.

During a tune-up golf tournament several months prior to Fox Sports’ first US Open coverage in 2015, Joe Buck acknowledged, “Right now we are not worthy. Someday maybe we will be. We hope to innovate. We hope to have some fun.”

Fox might have yucked it up during their first US Open telecast, but golf viewers weren’t laughing at home.  Covering golf is more than simply having a battalion of cameras set-up around the course.  Producing and directing a major golf tournament in real-time requires a combination of both skill and finesse.

Fox lacked both.

After its dismal debut of US Open golf coverage in 2015, Fox Sports quickly dumped the two-time major golf champion, Greg Norman, from the booth.  For his part, Norman revealed, “I can honestly say that I am shocked and surprised.”

Back to the drawing board for Fox’ golf coverage.

The network then tabbed former ABC analyst Paul Azinger to replace Greg Norman in subsequent years’ coverage.  Azinger, a former PGA champion, was quite an improvement, but the televised golf coverage on Fox still remained amateurish and seemed a bit silly at times. 

Fox tried to innovate with shot tracers (good idea), a boat-operated drone television camera (bad idea), and 50 cameras being used during the coverage (depended on who was operating those cameras and whether they found the golf ball quickly enough). 

The real reason that Fox failed at golf coverage is that they simply didn’t understand the flow of this golf tournament itself.  While having an arsenal of technology and gadgets sounds cool (and costs a ton of money), Fox failed to understand and convey the tense human drama of the competition itself. 

Golf is a very individual sport where the players must deal with the pressure of the moment as they attempt to overcome obstacles along the way.  That’s why Fox failed.  It was too busy playing with its shiny new toys and forgetting how much stress the golfers were under trying to win America’s biggest tournament. 

For NBC, the network has regained the coveted US Open events for this year and the next six seasons.  Better yet, at least one source said that NBC was able to pick-up the golf coverage at a significant discount to what Fox was paying annually.   

For its part, the USGA stated that “the financial remuneration for the USGA will remain the same for the duration of the agreement.”  

Does that mean that Fox Sports actually paid NBC to take a failing golf package off their hands?  Perhaps, but the USGA’s statement indicated that the deal is “confidential”.  (Wink, wink)

I say, “Good-bye and good riddance” to Fox after five years of golf coverage. 

If you’re a golf fan, it’s going to be fun to see how much better NBC will handle this year’s US Open at Winged Foot in New York beginning September 17. 

This was a big win for NBC, a bigger win for golf fans, and a way for Fox to quietly slink away from a bad marriage.     

As 60’s cartoon character Snagglepuss used to say, “Exit, stage right!”