The US Open will return to NBC this fall after a five year run at Fox. This is bad news for golf fans, and the move spells doom for future broadcasts.
Late Sunday night, it was reported that Fox asked out of the remainder of their 12-year contract with the USGA. NBC will step in to replace them; they previously broadcast the US Open and other USGA events from 1995-2014. For golf fans, this is bad news that bodes poorly for the future of golf television.
Fox shocked the golf world when they initially signed a contract with the USGA. The network had no experience showcasing golf and did not pick up any PGA or LPGA Tour events, meaning the premier USGA tournaments would be their only showcase. In 2015, at Chambers Bay, this lack of experience showed; the Fox telecast was clunky and poorly announced. Viewers were clamoring for NBC to return to showcase the US Open.
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Over the next four years, though, Fox elevated their game. They swapped out Greg Norman with the competent Paul Azinger, and cut out much of the ‘fluff’ from their 2015 disaster. This resulted in one of golf’s best productions, featuring long hours of uninterrupted golf, smart broadcasters, and, most crucially, innovations to the generally stale world of golf broadcasts.
Fox added new features that forced CBS and NBC, the other golf broadcasters, to keep up.
This included increased trackman technology, shot tracing, and drone shots of the course. Fox has other basic features, including a constant leaderboard on the screen, that their competition still has not added. This is where Fox’s decision to leave golf television is bad news for viewers.
CBS’ issues have been discussed at length (including by yours truly), and while NBC generally does a better job of showcasing the action, it is a stale broadcast. With no incentive to change, golf on television always sticks to the Status Quo; Fox came in as a disruptor and forced networks to make innovations to improve the fan experience. With Fox out of the picture, it is easy to imagine CBS and NBC will revert to the basics and make no effort to improve their program.
Fox only showed a few USGA events on TV every year, but their fresh ideas forced golf broadcasts to improve. They elevated the US Open and made it the best golf experience on television. By exiting their contract with the USGA and handing the reins back to NBC, golf fans can expect more of the same – meaning everyone loses.