The Shark Swims Again
Greg Norman's presense in golf will continue after being named lead golf analyst for Fox TV's USGA coverage, which begins in 2015. (William West/AFP)
Say what you will about Fox -- and few people are neutral on the subject -- but it does do a magnificent job of identifying what the audience wants and then delivering. It did it with the NFL, NASCAR, Major League Baseball and, for a while, English Premier League soccer.
Beginning in 2015, the network will be expected to do the same with golf as it takes over broadcasting all USGA events, including the governing body's flagship championship, the U.S. Open, after 20 years on NBC and 33 on ESPN.
And say what you will about Greg Norman, lightning rod of opinion in his own right, but he is one of the most successful and most identifiable former athletes turned businessmen, selling everything from wine and clothing to turf grass and golf courses.
All that points to why the marriage of Fox and Norman, formally announced Wednesday when the network introduced him as its lead golf analyst, working beside veteran announcer Joe Buck, makes sense in many ways.
"It's been an interesting ride the last seven months," Norman told GolfDigest.com about his negotiations with Fox, which began after the USGA partnered with Fox last August. The result of those talks will have Norman working the U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Amateur, in addition to the U.S. Open.
"It's something I'm extremely enthusiastic about," Norman said. "I love the USGA. I love its footprint because it reaches 26 million golfers in the U.S. I love its role in the agronomy of the game. And I love the opportunity the USGA sees with Fox to reach down to an audience that seems to be disappearing from the game, a younger audience."
One of the things the USGA wanted to accomplish in selling its TV deal to Fox for $1.1 billion over 12 years was to broaden the audience of golf beyond the hardcore fan.
Norman, like Tiger Woods, is a golfer whose brand extends outside the game. The unruly blond locks, movie-star good looks, shark logo and tales of triumph and tears make the 59-year-old Australian an icon bigger than the sport in which he made his name. He likes to talk, is smart and has the courage of his convictions. And Fox will likely give him the freedom to speak his mind.
"I love Jim Nantz, but I also love Johnny Miller," Norman says when asked whose broadcast work he admires. "I was a staunch proponent of Johnny even back when I played. He calls it as he sees it. If we screw it up -- and we do on occasion -- he says so. I've been a fan in how he does it."
And is that what we will see from Norman the broadcaster?
"I think Fox and Joe Buck want me to go down that path as well," Norman says. "The best thing is to be fair and balanced, as is the Fox News motto. You have to articulate to the viewers what it is like to be in that arena."
For a time, after the hey-day of Jack Nicklaus and before the wonders of Woods, Norman was the best player in the world, not to mention the most well known. He carried the ball for the sport for more than a decade, winning at least one PGA Tour event in 11 different seasons from 1984 through 1997.
He won the British Open twice and had his heart broken several times in the other three majors, winning fans with the classy way he handled his disappointments. During that gap between the Golden Bear and Tiger, the Shark finished in the top 10 in 29 majors then added a 30th with a T-3 in the 2008 British Open at age 53.
Now Norman is faced with the challenge of transferring that star power and marketing clout from the golf course to the TV booth. "I love the fact that they are out of the box," Norman says about Fox. "At the end of the day, you have to get out of the box. When you think about ways of reaching people you have to step out of the box to some degree. [Executive producer] Mark Loomis is very open to my ideas and suggestions."
The exact nature of the Fox broadcast, and its full team, is still taking shape. But Norman points to the network's success with pro football as a model.
"You have to think of what John Madden did with the NFL," Norman says. "They put together a great team, no egos, just a team that got the message out. Who will be on our team? Time will tell. The formulation of that team starts today. Mark Loomis wants me to be instrumental in putting together this team."
Coming off the worst weekend TV ratings for the Masters in nearly 50 years, there could be an opportunity for the USGA to do what was envisioned by former president Glen D. Nager when the Fox deal was negotiated -- unseat the Masters as the most-watched event in golf.
And once again, Greg Norman can come out a winner, carrying the ball for a sport in search of a star.