Golf Broadcasting's future?

Every shot shown live? It's coming at the Players Championship

With an army of people and cameras, the PGA Tour embarks on a plan that could impact the future of golf broadcasting
March 09, 2020
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Photo by: Basak Gurbuz Derman

Basak Gurbuz Derman

Imagine a world where you could watch any shot on the PGA Tour, of any player, as it happens, LIVE. Or anytime you wanted.

If that sounds as appealing as it is overdue, keep reading.

Over the last decade-plus, the media landscape has shifted enormously, with the ability to watch just about anything as it happens. Golf’s reach has advanced with early coverage of featured groups and holes, shot tracers and better graphics.

But there are still gaps and human errors that result in circumstances such as CBS recently missing Harold Varner III’s topped tee shot during the final round when he was tied for the lead in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera.

Enter this year’s Players Championship.

For the first time in golf, every shot by all 144 players in the field will be streamed in real time to subscribers of NBC Sports Gold.

“Over the last couple of years, we have been testing the technology needed to support an initiative of this kind,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told Golf Digest. “We feel those platforms are now ready to help us accomplish the goal of bringing every shot from every player live, for the first time.”

If the technology sounds familiar, it should. Last year at Augusta National, nearly every shot of every player was shown on the Masters app or on Masters.com within a few minutes of it happening. The difference at this year’s Players is significant because it’s live.

The Tour took the technology on a dry run during this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, utilizing it on holes 14 through 18 at TPC Scottsdale during the television broadcast window. Golf Digest got a peak behind the curtain, or in this case, inside the truck. The operation is impressive and seductive.

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A view inside the production truck that will help coordinate the PGA Tour's Every Shot Live coverage from the Players Championship.

For the telecast of the Players, there will be 120 cameras, between NBC Sports and PGA Tour Entertainment, scattered across TPC Sawgrass, with at least 93 of those used for what the tour is calling Every Shot Live. There will be a minimum of four cameras on each hole—a stationary, unmanned camera on the tee box; a manned greenside camera; and wireless, manned cameras deployed to each fairway.

Remote camera operators based in the London and Atlanta offices of Hawk-Eye Innovations will cut from one shot to the next, essentially eliminating the traditional director/producer relationship that limits what viewers see in a typical golf telecast. Each operator is assigned to a group—one in the morning and another in the afternoon—and will make shot selections from a preview monitor.

Hawk-Eye is a Sony-owned company that handled the streaming of shots at last year’s Masters and has provided its tracking technology to a number of other sports, including tennis.

What about audio? Instead of announcers there will be only natural sound on each stream. Every tee box and green will be equipped with a microphone, as will the roving wireless cameras. That means viewers can potentially pick up player-caddie and player-player conversations. It figures to be more natural than, say, the forced banter we saw during The Match in 2018 between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Or, they’ll simply enjoy the peaceful sounds of nature and near silence.

Graphics? Those come included, with pertinent information like relevant statistics and leader board updates being fanned out across the different streams from inside one of the three production trucks on the ground. When players walk between shots, for example, a flyover of the hole or the latest FedEx Cup standings could be deployed to fill the down time. A tracer display for every tee shot struck will also be shown, and each feed will be accessible to the network telecast as needed.

When play is over and the strokes are added up, there will have been roughly 32,000 shots hit over 72 holes, all of which can be clipped and packaged in any number of ways for the viewer to digest along the way.

Want to watch a speed round of Rory McIlroy or Brooks Koepka? No problem!

“It opens the door to all kinds of possibilities,” PGA Tour Entertainment Vice President and Executive Producer Greg Hopfe said.

To pull all this off, the tour has invested substantially, with the dollar amount stretching into the low seven figures.

It was time. In an era of curated content streams, to technology that tracks real-time player data, modern-day sport has become an immersive viewing experience.

“The Players Championship is where we launch our most innovative platforms,” Monahan said of the tour’s flagship event, explaining the timing. “The first live PGA Tour stream started here with Live@17 in the late 1990s and that evolved into our current PGA Tour Live OTT service and has resulted in fans getting more golf than ever before.

“This is the next step in that evolution, enabling fans to watch any of their favorite players over all four rounds.”

Still, there are challenges and questions, like with any new technology employed for the first time. Read: There will likely be at least some hiccups, but the tour knows this and says it’s ready should any arise.

“The biggest challenge, absolutely, would be the direction of the cameras,” Hopfe said. “At every event there’s an actual director talking to a cameraman. Here, they’re not getting any direction whatsoever. They’re not going to know when their feed is being taken or cut to. Often, a director will tell them, ‘OK, Tiger is away on No. 4.’ But they’ll be operating in isolation.”

With so many cameras, workers and cables on the course it will take an increased amount of coordination to execute coverage without the players feeling like they’re tripping over it all. That is, of course, the last thing the tour wants.

There also could be a disruption of the stream should a cable stop working or get cut. With all that extra fiberoptic, it’s possible.

Potentially more controversial are the cameras catching rules violations. Previously, it was impossible for the tour or anyone else to see everything that happened in a round. With this technology, that could no longer be the case.

Most importantly, though, is what the ability to show every shot of every player could mean for the future of golf and how it’s consumed. It’s not impossible to one day imagine a Viktor Hovland channel and highlight package showing every one of his rounds being streamed to Norway.

Then there’s the gambling element, which stands to increase tremendously as more states make betting on sports legal. Live betting in golf has long been popular outside the U.S. and it stands to grow even more, particularly when the bettor has the ability to see every shot as it happens.

Ultimately, the Tour would like to make this technology the norm, not the exception. The goal, it has said, is to show every shot in every tournament.

“This is about serving our fans, creating the opportunity to follow their favorite players from start to finish—something we’ve heard from fans that they want,” Monahan said. “And because of Every Shot Live, we can provide many other engaging pieces of content. Every player will have his highlights posted. We can expand our speed rounds offering on PGA Tour Live to include every player’s round, not just those in our featured groups.

“It’s a chance for us to invest in our product—coverage of our players competing at the highest level—with our fans reaping the rewards.”

Imagine that.


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