Opinion: Pro golf tour should embrace livestreaming apps like Meerkat, Periscope, to attract new fans and show ‘missing’ action

The action starts here. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

The action starts here. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for a larger image)

Even as it ramps up its own official efforts to bring more live action to fans via the Internet, the professional golf tour should embrace the emerging “livestreaming” services like Periscope and Meerkat to expose even more live play to a wider and possibly younger audience.

Why? Because golf is unique in its ability to allow fans very close to the players, and combining that with the predictability of action makes for a perfect recipe for compelling livestream content, something that may not be possible at stadium-based events like baseball or football. And since golf itself is admitting that it needs more live coverage, why not open the gates as wide as possible, and see what happens?

Just as the sport offers a unique vantage point for viewers, so too do innovations like golf carts enhance the on-course experience for both players and fans alike. With Golf Carts of ATX leading the charge in providing high-quality carts, it’s easier than ever for enthusiasts to navigate the fairways and get up close to the action. This accessibility can attract a younger audience who craves immersive experiences and direct engagement with the sport.

By leveraging livestreaming alongside the convenience of golf carts, the tour could foster a vibrant community that celebrates every aspect of the game. Imagine fans not only watching live matches from their devices but also getting real-time glimpses of players as they drive by in their carts, capturing the spontaneity and authenticity that make golf so special. This fusion of technology and tradition could set the stage for a new era in golf, inviting fans to engage with the game in ways that were previously unimaginable.

As I will explain below I think the downside is minimal, and on the upside there’s the opportunity for the world’s stodgiest sport to shed some of its historical knickers and attract a younger, hipper audience that it might need somewhere soon down the road.

Perfect for Periscope

That overall idea was my instant takeaway from a day at the World Golf Championships Match Play event this week at Harding Park Golf Course in San Francisco, where I strolled the grounds on Tuesday, when practice rounds and a pro-am event were taking place. While the almost non-existent crowd meant I could really get up close and personal, it struck me that even at crowded days at golf tournaments a good number of fans are extremely close to the players, making cell-phone livestreaming something you may actually want to watch.

Ian Poulter in fine form on Tuesday at WGC.

Ian Poulter in fine form on Tuesday at WGC.

Even with my limited photography skilz I was able to get some good shots Tuesday, including one stop-action picture of Ian Poulter’s perfect swing. I also spent some time watching Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner dial in their short irons at the practice range, and the thought occurred to me that golf geeks might really like being able to watch such “action” via a livestreaming service. So why not allow and even encourage it? If you follow golf at all you are probably, like the rest of us golf fans, regularly frustrated by the lack of “live” coverage either on TV or online. Especially so since there’s now no real reason not to have as much live coverage as you can.

In the old days, it might have been cost-prohibitive and technically impossible to have TV cameras following every golfer on the course on every hole. But as cameras and wireless technology continue to improve, you’re seeing more and more flexibility and choice in “official” golf coverage, most recently with Tuesday’s announcement of PGA Tour Live, which later this summer will bring live coverage of some Thursday and Friday morning action to Internet viewers for a small fee. That’s great news for frustrated old-line golf fans, who will probably happily pay a few bucks a week not to miss early rounds, especially from players who may finish before the TV coverage comes on air.

But why stop there? Even the PGA’s new service will be extremely limited, only showing two “featured” groups each day. That means possibly half the field still won’t be seen, and who knows when someone will have a hot round? Even The Masters’ excellent online coverage only shows a couple groups at a time and a couple holes. Why not allow unlimited or at least PGA media-approved livestreaming, something that could expand Tour coverage while rewarding hustling reporters who scour the course for unknowns having a good day? From where I sit the opportunities seem to far outweigh the negatives.

Remember: Online is additive for regular TV coverage!

After Tuesday’s press conference I briefly chatted with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and asked him about livestreaming apps, which are popping up at other pro sports events, like baseball. Though he doesn’t seem like someone who spends a lot of time on Twitter Finchem did know what Meerkat and Persicope were, and said “we’re looking at it [livestreaming] since it raises obvious issues.”

At the WGC social media tent. They wouldn't let me carry this on course to hold behind Sergio.

At the WGC social media tent. They wouldn’t let me carry this on course to hold behind Sergio.

Those obvious issues, of course, are that livestreaming clearly violates broadcast rights agreements and circumnavigates sponsor advertising, two big items in the PGA’s revenue list. But like other sports, golf isn’t really concerned with livestreaming right now since the guess is that most fans want to watch the action and not spend minutes holding up their phones so the Internet can see what they are seeing. That’s probably a safe bet but I think golf should go the other direction and encourage livestreaming, perhaps from golf media professionals already covering events or from sponsors themselves, who are also already providing social media coverage of their sponsored players. Instead of looking at livestreaming as something that takes away from its professional, sponsored coverage, the PGA should see the new services as a valuable promotional tool, one more likely to be consumed by an audience that doesn’t watch much golf now — young, hip, tech people who live on services like Twitter and might find golf cool if they could watch some live action on their phone, for free.

Already this week some golf media professionals with good social media skills, like Stephanie Wei, have done some livestreaming from Harding, but why not have more? Livestreaming could be a way to bring more exposure to up-and-coming players, who might never be part of an online “featured group” and who almost never show up on broadcast coverage, unless they shoot a hole in one. By and large the professional golf TV coverage is wonderfully produced, but it’s also predictable and as stuffy as sports gets: Tiger, Phil, commentators with British accents. What golf could profit from is some kind of Men in Blazers coverage, which might be a way to get younger fans for the twentysomething stars like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy who are now No. 2 and No. 1 in the game respecitvely. Livestreaming could be a simple, fun and cheap experiment that’s worth a shot.

It also doesn’t have to be revenue-free, since the PGA could allow sponsors to livestream their logoed players — I’m thinking here that the excellent social media crew at Callaway would jump on such a chance and probably be ready to do so by next week. Maybe the PGA could sell a few approved livestreaming spots to the highest bidders? Maybe then I will finally get the 24/7 TigerCam that I’ve always wanted — and I think that other golf fans, new or old, would appreciate as well.

BONUS: More MSR photos from Harding below.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth relaxes during practice round.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth relaxes during practice round.

Zach Johnson dials in short irons on the range.

Zach Johnson dials in short irons on the range.

Mobile device use is still limited and confusing.

Mobile device use is still limited and confusing.

Sponsor plug! No test drives were available.

Sponsor plug! No test drives were available.

In case you need help with your tweet or Instagram.

In case you need help with your tweet or Instagram.

Don't quite understand why we weren't given the keys to this cart.

Don’t quite understand why we weren’t given the keys to this cart.

MSR finishes the WGC with a 1-up win.

MSR finishes the WGC with a 1-up win.

CBS to stream 27 college hoops games online and via app

Just like it did for college football this fall, CBS Sports is going to make a bunch of its men’s college basketball broadcasts available online or via a mobile app, according to a press release out today.

Beginning with Saturday’s all-cheesehead game between Wisconsin and Marquette, CBS’s College Basketball Live will appear online 27 times during the 2014-15 season, with not only a full stream of video but the cool “DVR” functionality as well (which allows you to go back and see highlights from previous parts of the broadcast). CBS says there will also be a “social stream” as part of the online offering, but we can only hope that with the social-media stuff CBS doesn’t make the error NBC seems prone to commit in its online broadcasts, namely having a window that shows tweets with info that hasn’t yet happened in the video window.

The full schedule (all times Eastern) is below, and it already looks Kentucky-heavy — we see at least four games with the No. 1 Wildcats scheduled so far. There’s also a big dose of Big Ten action, just in case you like that style of play. If you don’t want to stay tuned to the schedule, you can also follow the CBS Twitter handles @CBSSports and @CBSSportsCBB which will give you handy scoring alerts so you know when to fire up your app or browser to catch the action in real time.

CBS HOOPS ONLINE SCHEDULE 2014-15

Sat., Dec. 6 Wisconsin @ Marquette 12:30 – 3:00 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 13 North Carolina @ Kentucky 12:00 – 2:30 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 20 CBS Sports Classic

North Carolina vs. Ohio State 1:00 – 3:30 p.m.

UCLA vs. Kentucky 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 3 UConn @ Florida 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Maryland @ Nebraska (Women’s) 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 10 Kentucky @ Texas A&M 1:00 – 3:30 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 17 Florida @ Georgia 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Michigan State @ Maryland 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

Sun., Jan. 25 Indiana @ Ohio State 1:30 – 4:00 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 31 Arkansas @ Florida 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sun., Feb. 1 Michigan @ Michigan State 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sun., Feb 8 Michigan @ Indiana 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sun., Feb. 15 Illinois @ Wisconsin 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sat., Feb. 21 Florida @ LSU 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Sun., Feb. 22 BIG TEN WILDCARD 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.
Ohio State @ Michigan

OR

Iowa @ Nebraska

OR

Indiana @ Rutgers

Sat., Feb. 28 Georgetown @ St. John’s 12:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Arkansas @ Kentucky 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

Sun., Mar. 1 SMU @ UConn 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

BIG TEN WILDCARD 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

Michigan State @ Wisconsin

OR

Purdue @ Ohio State

Sat., Mar. 7 Florida @ Kentucky 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Sun., Mar. 8 Memphis @ Cincinnati 12:00 – 2:00 p.m.

BIG TEN WILDCARD 4:30 – 6:30 p.m.

Wisconsin @ Ohio State

OR

Maryland @ Nebraska

OR

Penn State @ Minnesota

Sat., Mar. 14 Big Ten Semifinal #1 1:00 – 3:30 p.m.

Big Ten Semifinal #2 3:30 – 6:00 p.m.

Mountain West Championship 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.

Sun., Mar. 15 Big Ten Championship 3:30 – 6:00 p.m.

ESPN’s streaming World Cup: Record audiences, embarrassing crashes

Just like the U.S. Men’s soccer team, ESPN had it both good and bad during Wednesday’s World Cup game against Germany. On the plus side, ESPN recorded record audiences for its online broadcasts, easily topping any other sporting event ever, including Super Bowls.

But the bad was about as bad as the U.S. team’s somewhat lackluster shutout. By several accounts, including our personal viewing, ESPN’s live stream of the game crashed several times, and was (according to complaints on Twitter) simply unavailable for many viewers. While it’s an inexact science to track down how and why the problems may have been caused, there seems to be enough circumstantial evidence pointing to some pretty massive infrastructure failures from the worldwide leader. According to the Variety story, Univision’s live stream had no such problems, even though its size was smaller.

The line I love from the Variety story penned by our good pal Todd Spangler is the ESPN rep quoting “unprecedented demand” as a reason for the crashes. It would be one thing if something unexpected happened — like, say, the lights went out — and all of a sudden there was a huge audience that tuned in. But ESPN had to know the online viewership was going to be massive days ahead of time, given the start time in the middle of most of the U.S. business working hours. Plus, ESPN itself has spent the entire World Cup blasting emails about every 10 minutes or so, telling everyone it knows to tune in to games online. So: Huge demand? Yes. Unprecendented? Maybe. Unknown that it was coming? Unexplainable.

Maybe we’re holding ESPN to an unreal expectation here, but I’m trying to think how bad the fallout would be if Fox, or NBC, say, dropped the TV broadcast of a big event for even a few minutes. Media outlets around the world would be howling. It seems like online broadcasts are still getting a pass from observers, as if online doesn’t really count. But according to ESPN’s own numbers, online does count and the audiences are huge — 3.2 million uniques for the game — so why can’t big broadcasters put in an appropriate amount of resources to make sure the show goes on smoothly? Is it just that nobody really knows yet how much capacity it takes to keep a big event running? In that case, are advertisers and/or the sports who sell the online rights asking for refunds or make-goods?

As always we give a hats off to ESPN or any other broadcaster who tries to make as much content as possible available online. We just hope that going forward, those same broadcasters recognize that online is a significant, serious market, and that you underestimate your needs at your own peril.

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