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.

MLBAM to power new PGA Tour live action online service

MLBAM's Bob Bowman (L) and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announce the new PGA Tour Live service at the WGC Match Play event. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for larger image)

MLBAM’s Bob Bowman (L) and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announce the new PGA Tour Live service at the WGC Match Play event. Credit all photos: Paul Kapustka, MSR (click on any photo for larger image)

SAN FRANCISCO — Finally, golf fans will get a chance to see those early morning Thursday and Friday rounds that are never on broadcast TV, thanks to a new online live-action service announced Tuesday by the PGA Tour.

At a press conference held on the scene of this week’s World Golf Championships Match Play event at the Harding Park course, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said the tour is partnering with Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media entity (MLBAM) to produce a service called PGA Tour Live that will bring live Thursday and Friday golf coverage to any digital device for a small fee.

“I think you can see the possibilities” for such a service, said Finchem, who jointly presided over a press conference announcing the service with Bob Bowman, president of business and media for Major League Baseball. Finchem noted that at several recent PGA events there were some early rounds that fans couldn’t watch since they happened before the scheduled broadcasts came on air. With PGA Tour Live, he said, fans will be able to use phones, tablets or laptops and desktops to watch live action via the Internet.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth gets in some practice shots at Harding Park Tuesday.

Masters champ Jordan Spieth gets in some practice shots at Harding Park Tuesday.

According to MLBAM and the PGA the service will eventually be available from more than 30 events per season, and will show two “featured groups” from each event, similar to how many of the bigger tournaments like the Masters currently use online outlets to show live action. The service (you can sign up to get notified about its launch) is expected to launch sometime later this summer.

When asked the key question — how much this would cost — Bowman replied that the price wasn’t yet set, but that he thought it would be in “single digits” per event, meaning less than $10.

“Great content is not free, but I think this should be in single digits,” said Bowman, looking across the podium at Finchem to see if the tour’s boss agreed. “Lower is better.”

Bowman said in an interview after the press conference that the PGA would handle the content capture part of the service, and then would send the content to MLBAM for coding and processing on the Internet. While MLBAM already makes hundreds of millions showing live baseball action online, there are some extra hurdles to jump over to get content out from golf courses, which typically don’t have as much installed infrastructure. But Bowman also noted that at major events like the WGC tourneys, having mobile equipment isn’t a problem.

“If you look around here, you’ll see something like 40 [equipment] trucks,” Bowman said. “These are major media events, and it won’t be a problem [getting video from the courses]. This isn’t your grandfather’s golf tournament anymore.”

AP: Phil Texted Commissioner About… Too Many Cell Phones on the Course

The Associated Press is reporting today that Phil Mickelson sent PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem a text during last Thursday’s opening round of the Memorial, complaining about the fans’ unruly use of digital devices. From the AP story:

According to four people with direct knowledge, Mickelson sent a text message to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem from the sixth fairway at Muirfield Village suggesting that a lack of policing fans with cellphones was getting out of hand.

The story raises a bunch of questions — hey, are golfers going to be like NASCAR drivers, tweeting from the course? — and also (as GigaOM’s Stacey H says) ignores the obvious irony, that Mickelson is using a cell phone to complain about people using cell phones.

We expect to hear more about this bubbling issue at the press conferences for the U.S. Open next week. Should be interesting to see how big tour sponsor AT&T feels about all this, too. But from the last part of Doug Ferguson’s report it may be that only a little bit better policing is how to solve the problem:

Banning the policy isn’t an option. The tour is moving forward in the digital age with programs to enhance the gallery’s experience. Plus, the increase in attendance has been tangible this year. Nowadays, if fans can’t bring their phones, they’re more likely not to come at all.

The solution is to add security or volunteers to the two or three marquee pairings, and to take away phones from fans caught taking pictures (giving them a claim check to retrieve the phone at the end of the day). That’s what happened on Friday, and there were no big incidents the rest of the way.

UPDATE: It appears the commish is saying cell phones will stay, for now. Read this story over at Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which tracked Finchem down at a Pro-Am and asked him about the controversy.

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