By Chris Havlicek
I used a portion of my weekend afternoon to watch The CW, which was unusual and a departure from the norm. I’m not a big fan of “Smallville” or “The Gilmore Girls”, so I rarely, if ever, tune in to the CW. This weekend however marked the network’s first foray into the world of live sports programming with the Saudi-funded LIV Golf Tour and was obviously not your typical CW daytime fare. So I checked it out and came away with mixed emotions, all the while understanding this is their very FIRST broadcast.
In comparison to the internet livestreams from the previous season, this season’s broadcast appears to be more authentic through clever uses of graphics and an electric color scheme. The CW is not engaged in any of the broadcasting decisions for LIV Golf’s second season, which is currently being created internally. Nonetheless, in its second year, it is realistic to anticipate an improvement in quality versus the internet-only offering from last year.
LIV faces several unique difficulties that a typical golf broadcast does not due to its ambition to stand out from the PGA Tour in whatever manner imaginable. Let’s refer to these as “structural problems” because, although they were ultimately decisions taken by LIV, they are also an important component of the league’s branding and are therefore unlikely to change.
The shotgun start is the first such structural obstacle. Each group of players will begin their rounds on a different hole during a shotgun start, and all groups tee off simultaneously. For example, starting on hole 16, a group would play holes 16, 17, and 18 before moving on to hole one and concluding on hole 15.
The benefit to this is that LIV can squeeze its product into a shorter broadcast window than the PGA Tour, fitting an entire round into five hours of coverage on a single network, rather than 10+ hours between several networks like the PGA Tour, and showcase their entire roster of golfers at the same time.
LIV claims that these advantages are worthwhile, but a major decline in the storytelling, narrative, and building that viewers are used to from a traditional broadcast is a trade-off. One reason for this is that golf courses frequently, purposefully crescendo with a sequence of finishing holes that test a player’s nerve, willingness to take risks, and capacity for pressure late in a round. When golfers end their rounds on hole seven rather than hole 18, this is lost. The product suffers more from how challenging it is for viewers to follow a tournament’s natural course because of the shotgun start.
Beyond the structural challenges, I would consider the “LIV Culture” aspects of the broadcasts the most difficult to watch. These would be the stylistic decisions LIV makes to further differentiate itself from the PGA Tour. For example, loud music is omnipresent. It’s rare to see a player hit a shot without some kind of music. While this made for a fun and amusing day on the course in Miami, I found it annoying on a broadcast. Give me some of that, occasionally, but the Thanksgiving dinner-sized portion of LOUD was a little too much for golf.
One of the bright spots was the broadcast trio in charge of communicating, David Feherty, Jerry Foltz, and Arlo White. These former Golf Channel veterans are also part of LIV’s broadcast and they should be commended as they are black belts in the industry and it showed. One suggestion, the incessant gush about how innovative and special LIV is for the game of golf comes across too often. We know you are different — be confident and don’t feel the need to tell us that you’re different.
All in all, and as expected, there was the good, the bad, and the ugly for the first-ever CW LIV broadcast. I expect they will improve so let’s check in on them in a few months and see how they are doing.
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