PGA TOUR LIVE: Streaming Service Seeks to Score with Fans, Control Content

The proliferation of digital devices, improved Wi-Fi and streaming capabilities are bringing more live events, especially sports, to dedicated audiences on demand. And as Robert Gray reports, the PGA TOUR has teed up an impressive digital service for its most dedicated fans.

         PGA TOUR LIVE broadcasts live action from professional golf tournaments on desktop and on smart devices via apps for Android, iOS, and Apple TV. It’s owned and operated by the professional golf tour in an effort to expand coverage beyond the somewhat limited traditional TV hours and in response to demand by fans for more accessible mobile coverage.

         “The PGA TOUR launched PGA TOUR LIVE for the benefit of our audience,” asserts Luis Goicouria, senior vice president, digital platform/media strategy digital, PGA TOUR. “We have been ramping up our live digital competition coverage over the last five years, with more tournaments and more featured groupings each year. We’re bringing our fans the two featured groups on Thursday and Friday mornings, something they’ve never been able to see before, it’s a natural extension of our desire to serve our audience the content they want to see on the platforms they use the most.”

         Typically PGA TOUR LIVE offers diehards and the workday crowd a nearly uninterrupted golf fix. It follows six players in two groups and generally shows the rounds shot-for-shot since there are fewer commercial breaks and producers don’t have to worry about whether to replay shots missed during that time away for a word from the sponsors.

         The service charges $5.99 per month or a $39.99 annual fee, so executives with the service say they’re pretty selective about adding advertisements. “Because the consumer’s paying a premium, we don’t have a lot of ads,” explains Greg Hopfe, vice president and executive producer, PGA TOUR Entertainment. We don’t want consumers to say, ‘We’re paying for this so why are you showing me ads’. The (tournament) title sponsors are happy with it. We do have Scott Trade, they have the sponsorship in that logo and branding in that. They have spots in it as well.”

         Goicouria adds, “Our paying subscribers are our most ardent fans and will be an attractive audience for certain marketers. The paid service has limited commercial interruption, only three breaks an hour. However, we will be including other, more seamless forms of advertising such as graphics and native advertising within the product.”

Going for the Green

         PGA TOUR LIVE executives are quick to point out that streaming is ready for prime time; the service offers a full-blown broadcast using eight wireless cameras covering the six players with studio announcers, tape replays, and state-of-the-art graphics just like the networks.

         Hopfe laughs when asked about the quality of the stream and if viewers in the office still have to worry about interruptions, “It needs to be good and it is! I can have it on my iPhone and listen to it in my car, it’s not buffering. People at home are hooking it up to their smart TVs.”

 

Where else are they watching? PGA TOUR LIVE execs say about 60 percent of the audience comes from desktop, about 1/3 are from iOS apps, 7 percent are from Android, and just 1 percent from Apple TV.

In fact, the service is offering more stats for its online and streaming audience than the typical TV broadcast currently provides. “We’re ahead of the ballgame on that one,” asserts Hopfe. “If Jordan (Spieth) is 150 yards from the hole, we’ll put ‘Jordan from this distance’ into context. It’s really important, this is the evolution of where you’re watching, we’re putting the information on the screen. The networks are moving in that direction. It’s a philosophical question for them, but we thought with this being a different type of service, because it’s a ShotLink stat system that’s been up and running for 10 years, why not make it a permanent part of the broadcast? It distinguishes the broadcast from the networks.”

Local Knowledge on the Course

         The stats and insights into the layout are also proving as popular among the players as the fans. James Hahn, who recently won his second PGA TOUR title at the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina, said, “I do find it useful. A good example, at the Farmer’s Insurance Open (at Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego), we play on two different courses. I played the South Course on the first day, and I wanted to see what the pin locations where on the North Course to see what the course conditions would be like the next day and to see how putts would break.

         “I feel like any opportunity to watch the best players in the world play on a course I’ll compete on the next day is a huge advantage. Also to see how certain players are picking apart the golf course and using some of that and using PGA TOUR LIVE to excel in my own game. It helps.

         Hahn is not alone. Colt Knost says, “You can honestly learn stuff.  I remember actually the Thursday I woke up at THE PLAYERS and I was teeing off in the afternoon and watched and saw Jordan (Spieth) have a putt from behind the hole on 18 that everyone thinks goes right and actually went left.  I kind of charted that down in my memory—you pay attention to this stuff and you can definitely learn from watching the coverage (on PGA TOUR LIVE).”

         And another pro golfer, Steven Bowditch, adds that it’s an “extra tool for us to see how the greens are reacting, how the course is playing. I use it every week if I have an afternoon tee time, I'll switch it on and see what the guys are doing out there and just how the course is playing.”

Hitting Over the Top

         PGA TOUR LIVE is also an extra tool for the organization to help control its content, expanding exposure, while preparing for the next round of negotiations.

         A recent article in Sports Business Journal notes the PGA TOUR is exploring creating its own channel as its deals with the CBS and NBC broadcast networks allow in 2018 the ability for modifications or the ability to end the agreements early. The pro golf tour is locked into its Golf Channel deal until 2021 with no ability to opt-out early.

         PGA TOUR officials had no comment on that story or the possibility of a full-blow PGA TOUR over the top service or cable channel.

         The service’s mobile first app has been downloaded more than 700,000 times across all platforms. “Mobile is extremely important and does consume the majority of our development resources,” notes the TOUR’s Goicouria, adding, “We are seeing year-on-year migration to mobile platforms away from desktop across all of our digital products and mobile first is something we have espoused since we relaunched a platform responsive PGATOUR.com two years ago.”

 As for the future, the Goicouria notes, “ We want to continue to grow it and improve the product over time. We want to continue to add statistical context to the live video stream via ShotLink graphics. And as we evolve the produce, we will experiment with more cameras around the greens and the course, some of which will be robotically or remotely controlled. We hope that the service continues to be complimentary to our television coverage by bringing more PGA TOUR golf to our fans.”