Mike McCarley has headed up Golf Channel’s operations since 2011 and serves as the President, Golf, for the network’s parent company, NBC Sports Group.
McCarley oversees all of NBC Sports’ golf-related businesses and content — and it’s an ever-growing portfolio. In addition to Golf Channel and broadcast coverage on NBC 23 weeks out of the year, that includes Golf Digital, GolfNow, Golf Advisor, Revolution Golf, Golf Am Tour, Golf Academy and the newest additions, Golf Business Solutions (on the B2B front) and GOLFPASS (on the B2C side).
McCarley recently chatted with the NGF about golf ratings, the impact of Tiger Woods’ return on television and the game overall, the future of streaming golf coverage, and the public appetite for the sport:
In looking at golf’s trajectory, 2018 was the most-watched year ever for Golf Channel’s PGA TOUR coverage and NBC had its best golf season in 12 years. What are your expectations for 2019?
You look at it as the old saying, ‘The rising tide lifts all ships,’ and then how long does this sustain with there being a significant curiosity factor of — when is Tiger going to get his first win?
At some point, the natural gravity sets in, but the interest level that we saw last year, at the Tour Championship especially, I think we’re going to see it continue. It’s at what level, which is anybody’s guess. It also probably depends on the first few months of the year, with the new schedule – six championship events in six months — how does that all affect it? It’s really more front-loaded than it’s ever been before.
I’m predicting the new schedule is going to be a home run. There are nuances every year — different venues and climates that are going to be in and out every year, but I think the new schedule is more ideal for the sport for the long term than it ever has been. It was a great move and it took years to get it here, but now that it’s done, I think it’s going to be good for the sport and everybody involved.
Some people in the industry will say that Tiger Woods doesn’t just move the needle, when it comes to TV viewership, but that he is the needle. How do you describe Tiger’s impact on TV and the game?
You look at his impact over 20-some odd years now and you’ve got people who were introduced to the game, even some of the young pros who are playing now, and he’s often cited as the reason why they were first attracted to the game. Because he made golf cool. It’s a lot in the same way that Arnold (Palmer) made golf cool. To a completely different generation of people, probably a more diverse group of people, Tiger made golf cool and more relatable to them. I think you’re seeing it manifest itself in a lot of different ways now. Ultimately, it’s a more diverse game than it ever has been. You look at all these significant milestones that have happened in the last 20-year period, it’s all about being more inclusive and bringing a more diverse audience of people into the sport. It’s been a universally positive impact.
Golf is a traditional game, but continually moving forward. When it comes to how people are consuming their media, particularly with everything that NBC is doing with streaming sports coverage, where does streaming fit within the game of golf and where is it going in the next few years?
It starts with — you’re going to watch on the best device available to you. So, if you’re at your kids’ soccer game, it’s probably your phone, at best it’s your iPad, but it’s not on your couch with the big screen TV. But if you’re at home, you’re probably going to watch TV and you’re probably going to have two screens going.
We have the advantage of NBC Sports being a leader with the Olympics and Super Bowls and you’re learning how best to use the technology. We got off to a great start with PGA TOUR Live. We’ve doubled the number of hours, like 900 hours or something now. We’ve doubled the number of platforms it’s on. We’re able to market it probably more effectively than it ever has been. Overall, it’s very small, but we’re seeing additive audience that’s coming from people who are watching on other devices, not just television. It’s a fraction, but it’s growth. And it’s an obvious place where we’re spending a lot of time innovating and thinking about how do we do things differently and better. We have the advantage of learning the best practices from nearly every sport. You look at cycling; the things we’re doing in motorsports; you’ve got 35 different Olympic sports in the summer that are all doing things a little differently in terms of technology and integrating data. We’re learning from all of that.
The PGA TOUR has been a very good partner in combining what we do well and a lot of the data they’ve been gathering over the years with ShotLink and things like that, so we think about what this product can be down the road. Golf is a sport — played sun-up to sundown, four days a week – that means you’re not going to be in front of a traditional television set to watch an entire golf tournament. But we all have a device with us, sometimes two or three, so you can always find whatever the content is.
Over 100 million people in the U.S. are consuming the game in some fashion – playing, watching, reading. That speaks to the interest and appetite for golf, doesn’t it?
I was talking with someone recently about a lot of the college stuff we’ve done and he said he would argue that golf is one of the best-covered sports from a media perspective, just because so much is available. From about Wednesday evening through Sunday night, you can generally get some live golf tournament that’s happening somewhere in the world 40 weeks out of the year.
When you think about the breadth of coverage, it’s pretty significant. You think about the effect that can have on kids looking for a reason to get into a sport. Not necessarily golf, but the fact that there’s a lot of the content out there where they can see someone, become a fan, find someone to try to emulate… (Nick) Faldo’s story about watching the Masters as a kid and deciding that’s what he wanted to do, that’s pretty impactful. It’s something we heard a lot anecdotally during the Olympics — a lot of countries were seeing a sport that they had heard about but maybe they had never seen. I like to focus on the Aditi Ashok story in India where you start seeing all these data points about Google searches, search words that are trending and people trying to figure out what a birdie was because she was on the leaderboard.
From a content perspective, there’s a lot being done now, but there’s a lot more to do when you look at the game overall from an innovation standpoint.
Now with the launch of GOLFTV, the field is getting a little bit more crowded. What does that mean for the industry?
Overall, it’s good. There’s a lot of opportunity and you’ve got to mix — and this is from a marketing and exposure standpoint — the broad reach for a sport with the ability to go really deep with your core fans. Because there’s a balance to be had there from a business standpoint. The long-term health and vitality of a sport or really any kind of content is the total number of people that it’s actually reaching.
The balance of the broad reach with a really deep experience, with a direct-to-consumer OTT-type of product, it’s something that any sport has to balance right. Everyone is experimenting with it right now.