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March 12, 2020

Players 2020: Behind the wheel with the PGA Tour's new live-golf viewing experience, debuting at TPC Sawgrass

Golf has finally created a competitive viewing experience to the NFL with its immersive PGA Tour Live/NBC Sports Gold digital product that debuted Thursday from TPC Sawgrass. For the first time, the PGA Tour is live-streaming every shot by every competitor through its subscription-based platform ($9.99/month or $64.99/year). And after a morning of binging the action, we couldn't look away from our multiple-screen setup, which felt like an NFL-like viewing experience on a Sunday, a huge positive for the tour.

Let's preface everything by saying we can't overstate how surreal a start the tournament got off to on Thursday. The uncertainty with the coronavirus led to a visibly lighter crowd at TPC Sawgrass, and the tour by noon had announced that it would not allow fans on property the rest of the tournament as part of a prohibition on spectators for the next three weeks at PGA Tour events.

Putting that aside, we decided to do the best we could to enjoy the golf. And the beauty of the Every Shot Live technology, at least, is that fans have the best possible live-golf viewing experience to make up for not getting to watch the action live. This is the essentially the equivalent of the NFL Red Zone experience, without a host like Scott Hansen cutting to all the shots you need to see. But to some, this is better, because if you choose, you won't miss a shot from every player of your choice at this year's Players.

You can choose to watch a feed of every group on the course through the NBC Sports Gold/PGA Tour Live app:

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There's a stationary camera on every tee box to capture tee shots, and a cameraman with every group to show every player's shot from the fairway and green. Even when J.J. Spaun went way right on the tee at the first hole, we got to see his punch-out from behind the trees (though perhaps the demand for J.J. Spaun punch shots is decidedly low).

There weren't broadcasters along with every feed, which we were OK with; adding context to Sepp Straka's every shot would be a bit of overkill, though that seems to be an option going forward.

If viewing on a desktop, you could pull up multiple windows and have multiple feeds going simultaneously. I utilized the quadbox, found every week on NFL Red Zone, using my wife's computer, and then I added another group on my iPad, so I could still be live-blogging all the action on my own computer.

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Then I took it a step further; I saw my opening to get a pentabox going ... and then I AirPlayed it on our TV. And I kept the iPad going, so I had seven screens working at the same time.

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It truly felt like I couldn't walk away to risk missing any action happening. That's exactly how NFL fans feel on Sunday, so in terms of fan engagement, this product is a definite win for the PGA Tour.

If anything, this has officially raised our level of expectation, knowing this type of live-golf-viewing experience is possible. Would there be a demand for this at lesser events such as the John Deere Classic? Perhaps. The PGA Tour is fairly popular. And with the boom in the interest for daily-fantasy contests and gambling on golf, there would be a demand for it—and the willingness to pay a premium. The big question is the cost of operating—our Brian Wacker reported that the tour spent seven figures to launch the product at TPC Sawgrass. What the ticket would be to produce other events might be the difference between seeing this for a handful of Tour events or a majority.

“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.”

It'll be interesting to see what the next step in the PGA Tour's live-streaming experience will be, but we know the tour has set a high bar with its latest product.


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