Trevor Immelman, LIV TV ratings and the top 10 golf media stories of 2023

2023 was a landmark year for golf media across the board. Here, we break down the 10 stories that defined the year.

The post Trevor Immelman, LIV TV ratings and the top 10 golf media stories of 2023 appeared first on Golf.

2023 was a landmark year for golf media across the board. Here, we break down the 10 stories that defined the year.

The post Trevor Immelman, LIV TV ratings and the top 10 golf media stories of 2023 appeared first on Golf.

What kind of year has it been?

Only one of the strangest in golf history.

The golf world has nary seen a year like these last twelve months — a rollicking journey of highs and lows; controversy and conflict; trial and triumph; war and peace; clarity and confusion. As such, the golf media world was similarly abuzz in much of 2023, once again reveling in the turnover and turmoil shared by its parent sport.

There is no questioning there have been big moments in golf media in ’23 — the creation of LIV’s first over-the-air broadcast in the United States, the ascension of a new CBS lead analyst (and the high-profile dismissal of his NBC Sports counterpart) and the end of a Masters’ pilgrimage for Jim Nantz, just to name a few — but how do those moments stack up against one another?

In what (we hope) is our final Hot Mic of 2023, we attempt to give meaning to the moments that defined the year with the first-ever edition of The Mikees. Below, we rank the 10 biggest golf media stories of 2023, and celebrate the moments that changed golf media as we know it.

Top 10 golf media stories of 2023

10. Jim Nantz’s ‘last dance’

The Masters marks the beginning of the major championship season, but in 2023 it also marked a notable end: for the last time, Jim Nantz completed his annual pilgrimage from the Final Four to Augusta National.

Early last year, Nantz, the voice of CBS’s NCAA Tournament and PGA Tour coverage (among other sports), announced his intention to hand over the reins to longtime NBA and NCAA voice Ian Eagle for the Final Four starting in 2024. The decision meant that Nantz’s 2023 Final Four — a home game for him, in Houston — would be his final time around one of the sports world’s ultimate bucket-list weeks.

“Listen, it’s always been a bit of a conundrum for me,” Nantz told GOLF with a laugh early in ’23. “When I’m at the Final Four, all anyone wants to talk to me about is the Masters. I get reminded of it just walking through a restaurant, walking down the street, walking through a lobby — who’s gonna win the Masters next week? Then, usually I’m walking around [Augusta National] trying to catch up, trying to get some face time with the top players, but all they want to talk to me about is the basketball.”

Ultimately, Nantz decided it best for his already jam-packed work schedule to step away from the Final Four play-by-play role, but golf fans needn’t worry yet about the same happening at Augusta National: Nantz has long maintained his intention to retire after his 51st Masters, which would be held upon the 100th playing of the tournament in 2036.

9. CBS names a new boss

Forget golf, it’s not a stretch to say Sean McManus has been one of the sports world’s most instrumental figures since taking over as CBS Sports chairman some 27 years ago. The CBS Sports chief executive has handled everything from personnel decisions to media rights negotiations in the quarter-century since his ascension to the lead job — a tenure that coincided with the explosion of the sports television business into one of the most profitable pieces of the American media market.

In short, McManus has played one of the key roles in the evolution of the sports TV world over the last three decades, and his work has entrenched CBS as one of the few marquee television destinations in the United States.

His retirement announcement, which arrived via a quiet press release during Ryder Cup week, was typical McManus: surgical, understated, quick to defer the spotlight. But there is no doubting McManus’ retirement decision has far-reaching implications for the sports — and golf — worlds, and despite his damndest attempts, he will not avoid the limelight here.

McManus will retire from his post at CBS after the completion of the Masters in April, leaving long-time protege David Berson to succeed him atop the network. The sports world will miss him when he’s gone, but we won’t have to go far to see the fruits of his labor atop “The Eye.”

8. Commercial craziness

It qualifies as concerning for the state of golf television coverage when members of at least three governing bodies (PGA Tour, LPGA, USGA) are forced to answer questions about the volume and frequency of commercial interruptions during tournament broadcasts. In 2023, we had not only that, but also a large-scale effort by several members of the golf internet to track interruptions during the final big event of the season, the Ryder Cup.

Of course, commercial gripes are not new to the world of golf television, particularly in the era of a $700+ million/year rights deal between CBS/NBC and the PGA Tour. But this is an issue that appears to be getting worse over time, not better, and extends far beyond regular Tour weeks.

The good news? Interviews with golf’s biggest figures show they recognize the commercial issue is, in fact, an issue. But the golf world is still light on solutions.

It’s hard to square away how the economics of sports television can better serve the realities of live golf, but it seems sensible to hope that the next time golf fans wake up in the middle of the night to watch the Ryder Cup, they’re not subjected to an all-out commercial offensive. That might be a good starting point.

7. LIV’s CW debut

Any time a brand-new sports league secures a media rights agreement with a “national” TV network, it qualifies as big news. That LIV Golf found a national broadcast partner for 2023 after a highly controversial opening season on YouTube was, well, monumental.

The agreement between LIV and the CW — a two-year deal that featured a revenue share in year 1 — was not anywhere near the sports world’s “traditional” TV rights payouts. And, as time wore on, the agreement would provide some pain points for both sides (more on that in a moment). But the CW was a place for LIV to air its tournaments where normal sports fans could find it on television, and with the league maintaining control over the TV production, LIV’s media team was afforded the freedom to advance upon an innovative new structure of live sports TV and graphics production.

Those marked two huge building blocks for LIV in what proved to be a decisive second season for the upstarts, giving the league what is unquestionably one of the sharpest technical telecasts in golf (though not without its faults). Now, with an agreement with the PGA Tour looming and the reigning Masters champ coming aboard all while the media team seeks a new Friday broadcast partner, there’s ample reason for optimism heading into ’24.

6. The Walk-and-Talk

I remember distinctly a conversation I had in the spring of 2020, when I first learned of the technology that would revolutionize golf television just a few years later.

“We were really close to using a new technology that allows AirPods to work like a broadcast headset,” one member of The Match‘s broadcast team told me. “It wasn’t ready yet, but I bet you’ll see it on a golf broadcast in the next few years.”

As it turned out, that producer was predicting the future. The “Eye on the Course” walk-and-talk interview segments started in earnest in 2023 on CBS, and soon became a staple of the golf television landscape, producing some of the most compelling player content we saw all year in pro golf. CBS Golf lead producer Sellers Shy was the first to implement the tech, and he was rewarded for his innovation with a stunning (and thoroughly compelling) pair of interviews with Rory McIlroy and Max Homa at the Masters.

In just a year, the walk-and-talk went from a novelty to one of the most well-regarded pieces of live tournament coverage each week, and we’re excited to see what the networks have in store to build on the concept in 2024.

5. LIV stops reporting TV ratings

Yes, LIV’s broadcast remains technically and visually impressive, but a much bigger question remains:

Who’s watching it?

The truth is that we have only a limited picture of how the league has done on the network, because it stopped reporting ratings publicly after a sharp dropoff to start the 2023 season.

cam smith crouches at LIV tulsa

After viewership dip, LIV Golf has quietly stopped reporting TV ratings

By: James Colgan

Yes, as the Hot Mic first reported in May, LIV stopped releasing viewership numbers from its events, a move that effectively ended its viewership battle with the PGA Tour. Nielsen ratings, which leave out some large markets LIV is on TV in, show ratings of 150,000 or so average viewers — a pittance next to the Tour’s numbers, which typically range in the millions.

We won’t be able to make an apples-to-apples comparison (and maybe that was never fair to begin with), but LIV’s lack of clarity on this subject remains one of the most telling pieces of the ongoing battle between the two parties, especially as the perception of LIV’s leverage at the negotiating table with the Tour continues to grow.

4. NBC dumps Paul Azinger as lead analyst

A late entry into the story of the year, but a significant one nonetheless: Paul Azinger’s abrupt departure from NBC. Officially, the network elected not to renew his contract, but unofficially the move was clear as day: NBC was headed in a different direction, just a year after dropping two other longtime voices — Gary Koch and Roger Maltbie — in similar fashion.

Azinger grew to be an unpopular figure in the lead chair for NBC before his ouster in November after five years in the role. His brand of folksy analysis earned a lackluster critical reception in the era of analytics. His “predictions” often ran opposite to easily accessible data. In the later stages of his time with NBC, he often derided against a group he happened to lead: the “golf media.”

Azinger’s departure opens the gates for NBC to further reimagine its golf coverage, and it seems the network is going to take its time in making a final decision. Kevin Kisner, Brad Faxon and Brandel Chamblee are among those who will be “trying out” in the new role early in 2024, a rotating practical interview of sorts that could continue well into the new year.

For NBC, the process will be well worth the wait if it works out. Azinger’s predecessor in the lead analyst role, Johnny Miller, held the job for some 29 years. The peacock hopes the next analyst is around for roughly just as long.

3. Netflix’s ‘Full Swing’ craze invades golf

Full Swing had been in development for nearly half a decade before it finally landed on Netflix screens worldwide in February, but it took a fraction of that time for the show to become an international hit.

Almost immediately, the show achieved all of its pre-production promises: expanding golf’s audience, improving its standing in the cultural zeitgeist, and earning a cult following on the golf internet.

Commercially, things were nearly as promising. Audiences attached to the show instantly, earning Full Swing Netflix Top 10 ratings in a series of countries and positive critical reception the world over. The show’s subjects were overnight sensations, enjoying sudden fame and a whole bunch of sponsorship money to boot. Golf diehards even enjoyed the action, too, peeking behind the scenes into the year the golf world flipped on its head.

In a surprise move, Netflix would eventually release viewership data from the show revealing it had been watched for 53.1 million hours in 2023 — roughly half the viewership time of Full Swing’s Formula1 counterpart, but roughly two times its tennis counterpart.

In short, it was hard to picture a better success for Full Swing. The proof is in the proverbial pudding: Full Swing has already been renewed for season 2, which is expected to be released in the next few months.

2. Trevor Immelman’s masterful debut

Broadcasters play a crucial role in how we understand the events that we watch, and among broadcasters, no role is more important in our understanding than that of the analyst. If it is the job of the play-by-play man to explain “the what,” then it is the job of the analyst to explain “the why” — and in a sport as esoteric as golf, “the why” is critically important.

It is for these reasons that Trevor Immelman’s first year in the CBS Sports lead chair raises to our second-biggest moment of 2023 in golf media. Immelman, who stepped into the role vacated by the venerable Nick Faldo, was one of the best analysts in professional sports in 2023 — bringing a dizzying mix of golf intellect and enthusiasm to the booth for CBS. His preparation was evident during most live broadcasts, and his work during Jon Rahm’s thrilling final round at the Masters represented the kind of signature moment that takes most analysts years to reach.

In Immelman, CBS seems to have found its definitive voice of the future. That’s a major victory for lead producer Sellers Shy and the CBS Golf team, which deserves plaudits for the way it has handled a considerable overhaul in recent years.

CBS has come out the other end with arguably the most entertaining telecast in the sport.

1. Merger Madness

It was the story of the year in professional golf — and golf media was no different. The implications of the merger between the PGA Tour and Saudi Public Investment Fund are enormous, and much of them center around … you guessed it, the media.

Let us first go back to the day the news was announced, June 6. Jay Monahan and Yasir Al-Rumayyan appeared on the Tour’s frequent news-breaking pals, CNBC, to share the news of the merger. That interview would become a piece of golf’s history almost immediately, and spawn close to a dozen hours of breathless, commercial-free coverage on the Tour’s broadcast partner, Golf Channel.

When the dust from that day settled, it soon became clear that the Tour’s media partners would not just be part of how the merger was covered, they would be included as part of the merger itself. Per the “framework agreement” with the Saudis, the Tour’s moneymaking businesses like TV rights would be pooled into a for-profit entity named PGA Tour Enterprises that was run by the Tour but funded in part by significant Saudi investment. The partners, like the rest of the golf world, were blindsided.

It’s unclear precisely how the PGA Tour’s media business will be affected by the merger (much of it depends on whether the two parties come to a “definitive agreement” to merge interests), but there is no doubting this piece of information: as with everything else in pro golf, the merger was the story of the year in 2023.

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