Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Could NBC’s golf coverage suffer after $27 billion NBA deal? Leadership speaks up

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NBC’s reported new deal with the NBA could mean tectonic shifts at the network.

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Welcome back to another extended edition of the Hot Mic Newsletter, GOLF’s weekly send covering all things golf media from me, James Colgan. The topic of this week’s newsletter is NBC’s (reported) new big-money deal with the NBA, and what it means for golf. As always, if you’d like to be the first to receive exclusive insights like these directly from me, click the link here to subscribe to our free newsletter send. But first, we go back to Pinehurst, where golf TV’s hottest debate now has new questions.

IT’S BEEN A TOUGH SPRING FOR NBC GOLF.

The NBC telecast has been widely criticized by fans in 2024, and on the eve of the biggest golf broadcast of the network’s season, it feels like it is on thin ice with the golf-watching world.

That would be enough to set the stage for an important U.S. Open week for NBC, but then last week, more big news came in: The network was reportedly on the brink of announcing an 11-year TV deal with the NBA worth in the neighborhood of $27 billion.

Suddenly the questions swirling around NBC’s U.S. Open broadcast cut both ways. Was the golf-watching world on thin ice with NBC?

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SPIN CYCLE

Much has been made about NBC’s broadcast tweaks in ’24, but less has been said about the network’s messaging surrounding them.

NBC shirked setting goalposts for its first post-Azinger year, a move that muddied our perception of the network’s intentions in the sport. Was the Peacock cutting costs by stripping down production elements from its smaller broadcasts and moving on from longtime voices? Did it plan to hire a full-time lead analyst? How did it want its future broadcasts to look? Was golf even a priority?

There’s added sensitivity to these questions now, a few years after NBC uprooted Golf Channel from Orlando and conducted considerable layoffs within the golf division. Those moves might have been necessary evils for the health of the business, and these moves might have been more editorial and strategic in nature. Problem is, we didn’t know, and to some extent we still don’t know.

Over the first few months of the year, NBC’s messaging (or lack thereof) led to whispers of more nefarious motives, like the network feeling apathetic about the quality of its pro-golf product, or worse, beginning the slow march away from its relationship with the sport. That’s a little unfair considering NBC’s (still considerable) investment in Golf Channel and golf more broadly, but it’s also what happens when you don’t try to acquit yourself.

HOOPS HOOPLA

If you were worried about such things, last week’s Wall Street Journal report that NBC is in the late stages of securing NBA TV rights for the princely sum of $2.5 billion annually might have left you anguished.

NBC forking over some $27.5 billion to the NBA over the next decade theoretically lessens the pool of money that can be used for things like golf-media rights and production assets. It also realistically puts golf even further down the network pecking order, behind the more expensive NBA, NFL and the Olympic rights.

WHAT SAY YOU, NBC?

With all this in mind, I popped into NBC Sports’ pre-U.S. Open media call to ask production chief Sam Flood directly about the NBA news and what it portends for the future of golf on the network.

“NBC believes in sports,” Flood said. “We show it by having the No. 1 show on TV in Sunday Night Football. We show it by having the Olympics and making sure the Olympics are a best-in-class production.”

“Golf is a major sport on our network. We have an entire network dedicated to [golf]. Whatever negotiations are ongoing, we’re huge believers in the sports world, and that will never impact our commitment to make sure that what we do is best-in-class.”

And what does that mean for golf?

“[We are giving NBC Golf lead producer] Tommy Roy and his team all the assets and resources that he needs to put on world-class productions.”

MONEY TALKS

Whether you believe Flood is up to you, but the timing of the NBA news is serendipitous for one huge reason: the U.S. Open.

This week, NBC will host the biggest broadcast of its 2024 golf season at Pinehurst No. 2. With more than 300 hours of action on the schedule, Flood will have the chance to prove he was serious when he told me last month that cost-cutting allegations were part of a bigger plan to emphasize the biggest events on the NBC schedule.

The U.S. Open has been a thorn in the side of NBC for years, but the network and USGA have worked intensely to improve the viewing experience in the last 18 months. Ten years to the day after NBC lost its USGA rights to Fox, what will the network show us about the future?

Either way, it seems we’re about to get a glimpse.

The little golf newspaper that could

A LOCAL TREASURE

The Pilot — a small-town daily based locally in Southern Pines, N.C. — is one of thousands of newspapers that once propped up entire communities. The end of the journalism heyday saw most of these locals go the way of the dinosaur, but not The Pilot, which remains a local institution.

With the U.S. Open coming to town this week, though, institution is a woeful understatement for the role The Pilot will play. For six straight days, it will post a daily, 64-page special-edition section covering the hometown national championship.

“It’s the Super Bowl and the Presidential Election all wrapped into one,” Jonathan Bym, The Pilot’s sports editor, says with a wry smile. “It’s legitimately nuts.”

THE PLAN

Generating 64 additional pages of content every day from a staff of less than 40 full-time employees (less than a quarter of them writers) is…daunting.

“We hire a bunch of freelancers, which helps, and then run a bunch of photos taken by our photographers, which also helps,” Bym says, pausing for a second. “But…man.”

Bym says the work is literally nonstop, sun-up to sundown, for a week straight. Every moment that happens during the championship is game for inclusion in the paper, and it’s up to a small crew to decide what deserves writing…and how much to write.

WHY BOTHER?

In an era when the ends of local journalism so often fail to meet the needs of those financially invested, it’s tempting to wonder why The Pilot bothers at all with this level of U.S. Open coverage.

The answer, it seems, is a commitment as old as journalism itself.

“This area is golf crazy,” Bym says. “We owe it to them to be golf crazy, too.”

In addition to my favorite golf website (the one that employs me), I know what I’ll be reading this week.

Speaking of NBC’s U.S. Open coverage…

FRIENDLY FACES

A few new names will be receiving one-week promotions as part of NBC’s U.S. Open coverage.

  • Brandel Chamblee will serve as lead analyst (or something resembling it in Flood’s new odd/even structure), calling the action from the 18th-hole tower with Dan Hicks.
  • Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay is back and better than ever as an on-course analyst for NBC. He’s returning full-time to the gig.
  • Oh, and Paige Mackenzie … who will also be handling on-course reporting and Live From duties for NBC, stepping into an elevated role for the network

WHAT IT MEANS

If nothing else, we know Chamblee has a keen appreciation for the moment. He told me that he’s been watching old Johnny Miller highlights to keep himself sharp. Chamblee is a lightning rod, but that might be a good thing for NBC’s commentary. It’s a big opportunity for him to step into the limelight.

Mackay’s return is great news for NBC, too. He was brilliant in on-course reporting duties and will be brilliant again for as long as the network retains him.

But it’s Mackenzie who will earn a little bit extra attention this week. She’s been razor sharp in NBC’s coverage over the years, and her promotion marks one of the biggest moves at the network for a female golf analyst in some time. So we spent a few minutes on the phone with her last week to discuss the new gig.

TOP GEAR

Though the network employs many gifted female voices, few female analysts have covered NBC’s biggest men’s events in recent years.

It feels obvious and pandering to say that Mackenzie is a highly deserving candidate, but golf media is not a particularly diverse profession, so it bears calling out when a female analyst shines.

“I think any opposite-sex analyst has a higher standard,” she said. “They have a responsibility not to overspeak. Do the work to make sure you understand, but make sure it doesn’t come from a place of ‘I did it so I know it.’”

DEEP DIVES

Mackenzie is, of course, much more than just a female golf analyst; she’s one of NBC’s sharpest golf minds. And when it comes to delivering wonky deep-dives, she’s one of the best in golf not named Chamblee. That’s no accident.

“It’s funny, in my senior social studies class I took an aptitude test and it told me I was going to be a data analyst and have a green car,” she said, laughing.

“I guess I’m doing pretty well.”

2024 U.S. Open TV schedule (ET)

USA and NBC will air the 2024 U.S. Open on TV. USA will carry the first round on Thursday, as well as early coverage on the weekend. NBC will carry the second, third and final rounds on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Here’s the full TV schedule for the week (ET):

Thursday, June 13: 6:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (USA)
Friday, June 14: 1-7 p.m. (NBC)
Saturday, June 15: 10 a.m.-12 p.m. (USA); 12-8 p.m. (NBC)
Sunday, June 16: 9 a.m.-12 p.m. (USA); 12-7 p.m. (NBC)

Have a story idea or tip you’d like to share? You can reach the author at james.colgan@golf.com.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.

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