Golf’s Commercial Load Problem And Eight Solutions That Could Help

The most frustrating part of watching golf on TV? 

Ironically, it’s not being able to watch the golf itself. 

PGA Tour telecasts—and even some of golf’s biggest events—are regularly inundated with commercials, turning the viewer experience into a slog. It’s treacherous enough that some folks just DVR the golf and watch it on demand after the last putt has been holed. 

During a typical broadcast window, golf viewers are met with 18 minutes of commercials per hour. Sitting through a three-hour telecast requires nearly an hour of ad-watching. 

Every major sport has commercials. About 25 percent of an NFL broadcast is ads (clocking in at 50 or so minutes). An NBA game, which usually takes no longer than two hours and 30 minutes, has around 43 minutes of commercials. 

But golf has a unique problem those other sports don’t have: the game never stops and there are dozens of balls in play. 

Commercial breaks happen but key moments are continuing at the same time, creating a backlog of tape-delayed shots needing to be shown. Broadcasts get choppy and difficult to follow as hamstrung production crews are trying to catch up while maintaining some semblance of a cohesive plot. 

It gets more complicated for viewers when they have to toggle between different apps and networks to find the players, group or telecast they want to watch. As sports gambling grows, this is exceedingly untenable. 

Watching golf takes serious patience. I am a lunatic willing to do this but not everyone is so deranged. 

We are in an age of on-demand entertainment, including the rise of golf on YouTube. Professional golf isn’t going to suddenly turn into a commercial-free subscription product (wouldn’t that be nice?), but it also needs to be streamlined in order to grow an engaged audience. 

The PGA Tour is giving its players equity now. It’s a good time to invest in the entertainment aspect, providing fans with a better viewing experience. Collin Morikawa agrees. 

“We need to make golf more intriguing to the viewers,” Morikawa said at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. “How do we make broadcasting more approachable, how do we see more golf shots at the end of the day, right?

“I turn on golf on a Thursday if I play early. I turn it on and I see three golf shots (until a commercial) and I question why.”

Will we see meaningful change? I’m not holding my breath—but there are signs of hope. 

In this piece, I take a look at where golf telecasts stand and offer eight solutions that could make the viewer experience more palatable.

Rights Holders Have to Pay the Bills

There is a deep-rooted financial reality behind why so many commercials are shown during a golf broadcast. 

Other than the Masters, which holds the title as best viewing experience of the year, broadcast partners have to show commercials to make up for rights fees with the PGA Tour and other entities. (LIV has largely avoided this because of their lack of sponsors. The league is planning an “Any Shot, Any Time” this summer, so we will have to see how that unfolds). 

The PGA Tour structure is straightforward: it charges broadcast partners a rights fee and sells naming rights for sponsors to have their brand on individual tournaments. Title sponsors are required to purchase ad inventory for that week. The broadcast partner gets pre-sold ads that mitigate risk—about 70 percent of the ads are pre-sold—and the sponsor gets its air time. 

In 2020, the PGA Tour secured its latest round of rights fees—about $680 million annually—for CBS, NBC and ESPN to show golf in the U.S. That nine-year deal was a significant increase from the value of the previous deal ($400 million). 

Long story short: Broadcast partners have bills to pay. Networks have been needing to sell more ads since the rights fee increased. 

This is true for the PGA Tour as well as the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, Open Championship and Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup in particular was under social media siege last September when the broadcast was drowning in ads to the point where it couldn’t keep up with just four matches on the course. 

But the increased commercial load has not deterred golf fans (yet). Ratings, although small compared to other major sports, are mostly holding steady or growing, depending on the metric. The CBS golf season for 2023 (2.2 million viewers on average) was up one percent from 2022. Last year’s U.S. Open (6.2 million viewers) saw a 27-percent increase from the previous year. 

There hasn’t been tangible evidence that the commercial load matters enough to stop golf fans from watching. The divided pro golf landscape is certainly a threat to that but we’ve yet to see a negative impact on ratings. 

Bottom line: There has to be a lot of commercials/sponsored content and there is not much incentive for the product to fundamentally change unless fans stop watching. 

Money is also the answer to why we can’t see every shot live or get more coverage in general. Only about 60 percent of golf shots during a tournament are shown—the number has been going up but there is a lot of opportunity to meet additional fan demand. 

Some Progress is Being Made

The PGA Tour, USGA and others are aware of how upset fans are over the commercial load and broadcast struggles. 

Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan promised more live golf shots in 2023 and that number did go up slightly. We’re talking about only a handful of minutes during a broadcast window, but it’s something. 

The USGA decreased commercials by 30 percent over weekend coverage during last year’s U.S. Open. However, the first two rounds were widely skewered by the audience as commercial breaks were arriving at a furious pace. 

There have been a few innovations within the broadcast to make it more engaging—I touch on a few of those below—particularly during the reinvigorated CBS coverage. 

On rare occasions, the final hour on TV some Sundays has been commercial-free. Rolex sponsors that welcome breather for a few of the biggest events. Callaway has been doing it for The Sentry in Hawaii. The Players Championship has a similar offer.

It would be massive to get a commercial-free final hour at more signature events on Tour but the cost of doing so is usually prohibitive to advertisers. It’s a special-occasion kind of expense at the moment. 

The streaming of golf on ESPN+, which debuted in 2022, has been a huge success. Golf was the most-watched sport on the platform from January-August last year. 

The main feed drops off once the traditional broadcast starts but the featured groups and featured holes coverage are usually robust and a great watch. There are very few commercials. 

Golf coverage is, on the whole, better than it once was. But the bar wasn’t very high. 

As an eternal optimist, I am still hoping to see some evolution that makes the product better. Here are eight ideas that could help with commercial load or engage viewers on a deeper level. 

Reimagine Playing Through

The “Playing Through” concept stinks and needs to be completely rethought. 

Starting at the 2016 Ryder Cup, golf broadcasts decided to show golf during certain commercial breaks. The golf is brought down to about 20 percent of the screen with the remainder dedicated to an advertisement. Audio goes to the commercial. 

This reeks of an idea that broadcast partners and the PGA Tour think should be great for the fans as if they are doing us all a favor. 

In reality, it has the exact opposite effect. 

Playing Through is an excuse to jam in more ads while also making it easier on production crews—the golf that is shown on the small screen doesn’t have to be repeated once the commercial break is over. 

But important moments are happening during Playing Through. Even if the viewer is paying attention to the small screen, which is no guarantee, they are losing all context to why each shot matters. You can barely see the player’s score or how many shots they have hit on a certain hole. 

Golf fans just want to see as many golf shots as possible. Not like this, though. 

Playing Through is so egregious that I would rather see the shots on a full screen, with commentary, after a regular commercial break. A straw poll of my golf friends shows a consensus,and I’m interested to hear what you all think. 

There has to be a better way to execute this. 

More Additive Sponsored Content Within the Broadcast

My main answer to the commercial load concerns is to find more creative sponsored content within the broadcast. 

This already exists. For instance, we often see manufacturers sponsor a driving distance grid on a hole. 

My favorite example of great in-broadcast advertising is the Aon Risk Reward Challenge. It’s a season-long competition across the PGA and LPGA tours that tracks each player’s score on one specific hole each week (usually a risk-reward hole with danger lurking). Whoever has the best score at the end of the year wins $1 million on each tour. 

During the broadcast, there is a cool segment about average scores when a player “goes for it” instead of playing it safe. It shows how hitting into a hazard or being too conservative impacts golfers. You can see Strokes Gained information right on the graphic. 

Not only does this set up that hole in an engaging way but the sponsor is served so well here. 

Aon is an insurance solutions company involved in risk management. They want to be known for sound decision-making. Sponsoring a challenge like this makes sense. 

Wouldn’t it be better for sponsors to be a part of these types of advertisements? 

For example, the broadcast can go to a par-3 on the back nine and put up a graphic that has a circle around the flag to represent average proximity to the hole that day. Have it sponsored by a company that values accuracy—maybe something in the financial sector—and put their logo on or around the graphic. Do a 10-second ad read for the company as a shot is being hit. 

I think fans would be more engaged with the broadcast and the sponsor. 

The Commercials Themselves Can Better Serve Golfers

This point is a little meta but bear with me. 

Assuming full commercial breaks will continue in full force, can we at least ask for better commercials? 

First off, I find it strange how many house ads—commercials promoting golf—there are on PGA Tour broadcasts. This same phenomenon extends into events like the U.S. Open where coverage often begins with a completely unnecessary message from the CEO. 

We are already watching golf. If I’m demented enough to be watching Thursday afternoon coverage of the Valspar Championship, you don’t need to tell me the Houston Open is next week. 

There have been years where Players Championship house ads are running as the Players Championship is being played

I’m not smart enough to know exactly where those ads should be running but I would be stunned if they are effective at bringing in a new audience. 

Secondly, it is a pet peeve of mine when golf tournament sponsors have bad commercials—which inevitably get played dozens upon dozens of times throughout the event—that make a poor attempt at pandering to a golf audience. 

I’m looking at you, every commercial with a bumbling caddie. Same for you, every commercial with a spokesperson who “doesn’t know anything about golf” or an ad with a ball slowly rolling into the hole. 

We Don’t Need to See Tap-Ins

A meaningful part of the commercial load problem happens while the golf is on TV. 

Too many of the shots shown aren’t engaging. The main culprit of this are tap-ins or anything inside of two feet.

PGA Tour make percentage inside of two feet is north of 99 percent—it might be the least-captivating situation any player can have unless that putt is late in a golf tournament. 

But golf telecasts show a ton of putts instead of breaking away to more interesting shots. There are hard cameras near each green, so it is easier to show putting. Getting a cameraman out in the fairway is not always feasible. 

Still, I would take a behind-the-green angle of a full shot over watching tap–ins. 

This goes into a larger point about pacing. Given the commercial load, golf coverage should be focused on maximizing the amount of shots being shown, cutting quickly to as many interesting situations as possible. As the competition gets closer to the end, it can linger more on certain players. 

One way to do that is to move on from putting faster. A player misses a 15-footer and has 18 inches left? Move on to the next shot and verbally confirm that the previous tap-in was made. 

Off-Course Features Can Be Made Available Somewhere Else

This is a quick note to again harp on how golf fans do not want to see off-course features during the broadcast. 

This is specifically referring to any tear-jerker or “taste of the town” features that tend to get heavy play early during major championships. Talking heads and updates on Champions Tour events fall into this as well. 

Ditch that element of the storytelling for the broadcast. It’s 2024—move that to social or YouTube or somewhere else on your streaming platform. 

Golf fans just want golf shots. Over and over and over. 

More On-Demand Condensed Rounds

I have three more points that go into the “viewer engagement” category. They aren’t exclusively about dealing with the commercial load but they would do so much goodwill with fans. 

The PGA Tour does a nice job with highlight packages for tournament contenders or notable players. The majors do as well. 

But I would like to see this taken a step further. Every single player in the field should have a dedicated condensed round video. 

If the broadcast/streaming only captured the player three times—let’s say on featured holes streaming—then put those three holes’ worth of shots together so they come up when you click a player’s name in the app. Every shot shown on every broadcast should go into individual highlight packages. 

It’s niche content to want to see Adam Hadwin play golf while he’s tied for 58th but I know tons of people who would start scrolling through random players to see how they made an eagle or a triple bogey. I spend hours watching random rounds during the Masters. It’s so engaging. 

An “All-Access” Player-Caddie Video Made Available Post-Tournament

In most other sports, players are required to talk to the media. It’s in their contract as part of collective bargaining. 

Golf is not like that. A lot of pro golfers would like to just play the game, answer the occasional post-round question and then move on—they don’t want to share more than that. 

But PGA Tour players now are going to be owners of the product. They need to be accountable for it. They can make money off of it if they invest in it. 

One easy idea: record player-caddie conversations and then splice together the best bits for a post-tournament video. 

The NFL has been doing mic’d up videos for ages. This type of content is entertaining and relatable. 

I get that players are cautious with not wanting private conversations available for fan consumption but they are public entertainers. There has to be trust that anything personal will be taken out and only fun, interesting bits are left in the video. 

The Netflix “Full Swing” series is an awesome step forward. At the same time, I think it caters more toward the casual fan or someone just getting into golf. 

A “best of” player-caddie video would appeal to the hard-core audience that wants to spend more time consuming golf.

Players Can Get in the Booth and Talk Golf More

The new “walk and talk” segments in golf coverage are awesome. Their execution can be clunky at times but there have been some cool moments from them. Overall, it’s been a success. 

Along the same lines of players taking more ownership over their product, it would be great if we saw more players expand on the walk-and-talks by spending 15 to 20 minutes in the broadcast booth after their rounds. 

Let’s say Max Homa makes the cut but is not in contention later this week at the Genesis Invitational. Get him in the booth to talk about what the leaders are going to face coming down the stretch. 

Even small tidbits are engaging. If Homa says, “I had this putt earlier and it doesn’t break as much as I thought it would,” that makes viewers locked in to see if that player will make the same mistake. 

It doesn’t have to be a podcast-like discussion about Homa himself. Let him be a fan—a very informed fan who just played the course and has a wealth of experience.

Parting Thoughts

Golf coverage is making some positive strides but still needs a lot of help. 

Fans have generally not been considered within pro golf’s structure but it seems like the players are slowly realizing they can make more money and create a better future for golf if they take more control of the product. 

I’m cautiously optimistic, but also worried the fans won’t be prioritized enough. 

Now I want to hear from you. 

Are these ideas reasonable? Does the commercial load and pace of the broadcast turn you away? What would make your golf watching experience better? 

Let me know below in the comments.

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