NBC's U.S. Open Swan Song
By Torleif Sorenson on 6/10/14
2014 marks the end of an era for NBC Sports. Since 1995, they have held the United States Golf Association's television contract — and in so doing, they have not only improved the presentation of the U.S. Open Championship, but also the Women's Open. They have also broadcast several of the USGA's annual amateur championships on over-the-air television. The previous rights-holders, ABC Sports, would often farm out those events to ESPN, so when ABC lost the USGA contract to NBC in 1994, their final U.S. Open telecast ended on a very sour and acrimonious note. The story is a fascinating one, well-documented by the author John Feinstein in his excellent book Open.
Now, NBC is enduring the painful reality ABC and ESPN ignominiously suffered exactly 20 years ago; over the next two weeks, NBC Sports will televise their final men's and women's U.S. Open Championships for the foreseeable future — and very possibly for the last time ever with Johnny Miller as the lead golf analyst.
But the real loss to the USGA is not only the tremendous experience and body of knowledge not only of NBC's announcers and on-course reporters, but especially golf producer Tommy Roy. With this in mind, the excellent sportswriter and blogger Ed Sherman has written this analysis piece for GolfWorld.
Sherman interviewed NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus, who recounted this exchange with Roy:
"When this all happened, Tommy called me and said, 'How do you want us to cover the last U.S. Open?' I said, 'Tommy, I want you to do the best job you can do and be proud of whatever you put on the air.' He said, 'Thank you for that.'"In this writer's opinion, Lazarus is not just saying that to sound nice and diplomatic. With ABC Sports and ESPN giving an increasingly short shrift to golf, Lazarus and Roy are undoubtedly putting NBC Sports and Golf Channel in a position to perhaps acquire the U.S. television rights to the Open Championship from the R&A. This is, in part, because NBC still has a strong golf menu, featuring the Ryder Cup and the Players Championship, several other PGA Tour events, two FedExCup playoff events, and the season-ending Tour Championship.
Furthermore, NBC Sports and Golf Channel made the most unusual decision to telecast the 2013 Scottish Open, perhaps in an attempt to put their best foot forward with the R&A and the European Tour. The 2013 telecast turned out fortuitously when Phil Mickelson won the event in a playoff, then captured the Open Championship the very next week at Muirfield.
As for new USGA television rights-holder Fox Sports, former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol notes that they will have a noticeable learning curve. "I don't think Fox is going to do a bad job, but they have to live up to a high standard," said Ebersol.
Meanwhile, Sherman wrote a considerable amount about the effect that this final U.S. Open may very well include Johnny Miller shedding tears on the air. Sherman's column is an interesting one — and one your humble correspondent respectfully suggests that you read.
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