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Volume 21 No. 1


PGA Tour TV viewership took another plunge during the 2013-14 season, with average weekend numbers declining 18 percent on NBC and 14 percent on CBS.

The drops followed sharp declines the previous year as well. The 2013-14 season was the tour’s first with the new wraparound schedule.

CBS averaged 2.089 million viewers for weekend coverage of its 20 tour events, which is two tournaments more than the network had during the 2013 season. NBC’s 10 events averaged 2.355 million viewers. Despite the drops, the tour remains fully sponsored for next season, which is important because title sponsors account for the majority of advertising on the broadcasts.

Sponsorship and the tour’s plethora of young and emerging players give CBS’s Sean McManus optimism for the tour’s future. CBS and NBC have media deals with the tour that run through 2021.

“Year-over-year ratings are going to fluctuate, but it’s important to remember that sponsor underpinning and interest is as strong as it’s ever been,” said McManus, chairman of CBS Sports. “Ratings are significant, but we’re not worried about any long-term trends. We feel the future is still very bright.”

Golf Channel’s live PGA Tour coverage was down on the weekends 9 percent. Officials from the network said Golf Channel will finish with its second-most-watched year in its history, despite the declines.

Tour officials emphasized that they focus more on the cumulative audience, or the total number of people who watched across all of the tour’s live broadcasts and replays on Golf Channel. The tour’s cumulative audience remained strong in 2013-14, according to Ty Votaw, the tour’s chief marketing officer. Those tour broadcasts were down just 1 percent against the 2013 season.

“We have a lot of total TV hours, probably more hours of competition than most sports,” Votaw said.

A four-year snapshot shows that the tour’s cumulative audience in 2011 reached 175.9 million viewers; 171.2 million in 2012; 172.6 million in 2013; and 170.7 million in 2013-14.

The amount of PGA Tour golf on TV and available via simulcasts online can dilute the average viewership numbers, said Octagon’s Scott Seymour, whose agency represents clients such as BMW and MasterCard in golf.

Tour officials say they are focused on cumulative audience numbers, which remain strong.
“The tour has added a ton of hours and they’re moving more toward total consumption,” Seymour said. “There are so many ways to consume the sport now, but that can erode ratings.”

The tour also was largely without its biggest draw this past season — Tiger Woods. The 38-year-old played in seven official tournaments in 2014, and largely failed to contend. He posted just one top-25 finish as he battled a back injury.

“Our cumulative audience is something our title sponsors look at,” Votaw said. “When you have companies like Travelers and AT&T extend for 10 years, that tells you they see a bright future in the value proposition.”

The 2014 tournaments also faced some difficult competition for eyeballs. The Sochi Olympics in February went up against three tour events, while the FIFA World Cup ran from June into July.

The CBS, NBC and Golf Channel viewership numbers do not include major championships or the Ryder Cup.

I find the increasingly cluttered screens during live games to be completely annoying. Sports networks should get rid of their bottom line scrolls. They provide useless information and take up too much space. Networks also should shelve on-screen sponsor and network logos, which sometimes are as big as the scoreboard and distract viewers from the game action.

People invest in flat-screen TVs for big, beautiful pictures. But the irony is that while video quality is at an all-time high and getting better, it seems like the space given to the video that people actually want to see — the live games — is getting smaller.

I was in Las Vegas last Monday watching the Clippers and Timberwolves play on Prime Ticket (don’t ask!). During the game, the RSN’s bottom line scroll looped with stats for the top rushing, receiving and passing leaders from the previous day’s NFL games.

Was there anybody watching an early-season NBA game in Los Angeles who was helped by the information that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell ran for 95 yards the day before? It would take only a couple of seconds to get that information via a mobile phone.

I don’t mean to pick on Prime Ticket. Everyone does it. During Tuesday’s Syracuse-Michigan basketball game, ESPN’s bottom line listed every NFL matchup for the coming weekend, which still was five days away. ESPN’s bottom line also kept viewers up to date on the Stony Brook-Cincinnati game — a game I would have been watching if I cared about it.

It’s time for the sports networks to clean up their screens. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen any time soon.

I took my complaint to ESPN, and they say my view is in the super minority. In every focus group ESPN conducts, up to 80 percent of people buy into the bottom line and consider it to be valuable.

“Our bottom line gets the highest approval ratings possible,” said Ed Macedo, ESPN’s vice president of stats and information. “People find great value in having content fed to them when they are watching another game. It’s clutter only if we don’t provide good information.”

ESPN employs about 15 people to produce the bottom line for its networks, including the Spanish-language ESPN Deportes. This group has focused more on providing breaking news and scores on the bottom line than lists of, say, the NFL’s top passers this season, or schedules of coming games, Macedo said.

Now you see it: CBS Sports has tested a scoreboard that turns transparent during plays (top).
CBS Sports also uses a bottom line, as do all of the sports networks. But for the past month, the network quietly has been testing another technology that will clean up its screen.

During two Friday night college football games on CBS Sports Network, the score bug at the top of the screen turned transparent during a play and returned to full color when the play stopped. CBS considered using it for its NFL games this season, but opted to test it out on some college games first.

“The point is to make it more subtle and less of a distraction for the viewer,” said Steve Karasik, CBS Sports’ vice president of remote productions. “We use our cable network as a lab to try new ideas.”

CBS first tested the transparent scoreboard Nov. 7 for Fordham’s overtime win over Bucknell and found that the scoreboard was not transparent enough. The network made some tweaks and tested it again Nov. 28 for Houston’s win over SMU and was happier with its look.

“This is a radical new idea for us,” Karasik said. “We wanted to try it on real football games before branching out with other properties that we have.”

If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that technology eventually will give viewers control of what they see on screen. Viewers still will have to deal with network and sponsor logos. But within five years, ESPN’s Macedo predicted that viewers will be able to customize the bottom line.

“The infrastructure is set up for that to happen,” he said.

Does that mean I could, possibly, opt to get rid of the bottom line altogether?

“Perhaps,” Macedo said.

It’s not quite a commitment, but it’s still the best news I heard all week.

John Ourand can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.