Live golf returned to television for the first time in two months on May 17, with the TaylorMade Driving Relief event drawing a total audience of 2.35 million average viewers across NBC, GOLF Channel, NBCSN, along with NBC Sports and PGA TOUR streaming platforms, according to Nielsen and Adobe Analytics. The event raised more than $5.5 million for COVID-19 relief efforts along the way, $4 million of which came from corporate partners.
The live broadcast’s total audience delivery was comparable to final round coverage of the 2019 PGA TOUR on CBS and NBC during the second quarter, which averaged 2.32 million and 2.38 million viewers, respectively. A record average of 10.8 million viewers watched CBS Sports’ coverage of the final round of the 2019 Masters, which finished as the tournament’s most-watched morning golf broadcast in 32 years.
“Some may see the audience for this event as perhaps a bit light, but we need to remember that despite how starved we all are for live sports, it wasn’t an actual PGA event,” Lou D’Ermilio, president of sports communications firm Loud Communications, said. “I suspect the first official PGA event, with a full field, will perform better.”
Despite being on par with other golf events, Driving Relief’s numbers were well behind viewership for other sports-related broadcasts during the pandemic. The NFL draft drew a record-setting number of viewers across all three days of its coverage in April, topping 15 million during the first round. ESPN’s Michael Jordan docuseries, “The Last Dance,” premiered as the network’s most-watched documentary content ever after averaging 6.1 million viewers for episodes 1 and 2 across ESPN and ESPN2.
D’Ermilio said with an audience still “in the ballpark for golf this time of year,” the event was a win for sponsors as well as the NBC network and streaming platforms.
“I’m sure they felt great about having a live sports audience hearing and seeing their messages for the first time in a while,” he said. “Associating their brands with one of the first live sports events since March is most definitely a positive, and so is associating their brands with charities benefitting front line responders, especially now, when many of us are looking for ways to help our communities and these brave people any way we can.”
The TaylorMade Driving Relief charity skins event was supported by UnitedHealth Group, which pledged $3 million in donations – the skins-style round put a price on each hole won – and Farmers Insurance, which pledged $1 million for a birdies-and-eagle pool to benefit Off Their Plate, a charitable organization helping COVID-19 healthcare workers and impacted frontline shift employees.
Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson’s team won the event in the closest-to-the-pin playoff for $1.1 million in charitable donations, which secured the victory on the 17th. Following McIlroy’s tiebreaking wedge, which came when six skins were still on the table after the 18th hole, the pair finished with $1.85 million for American Nurses Foundation. Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff won $1.15 million for the CDC Foundation after leading for much of the match.
“The real beneficiaries are those on the front lines fighting this pandemic, and we know The American Nurses Foundation and Center for Disease Control Foundation will continue to do all they can to help meet the needs of those frontline heroes,” UnitedHealth Group senior vice president of marketing Allen Hermeling said.
Viewers could also contribute to the fundraising efforts through online donations and Text-to-Give options in partnership with GoFundMe. Several notable names called into the broadcast as well to give, including actor and comedian Bill Murray. During Murray’s sideways Skype appearance, he and NBC’s Mike Tirico agreed to donate $15,000 each to the organizations benefiting from the event. Donations are continuing.
The event’s relative success came despite a few technical hiccups, given the limited on site- personnel and available resources. Golf will get a second chance at a live, socially distanced broadcast on May 24, when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson bring ‘That Match’ back to television with a twist. The ‘Champions for Charity’ edition will feature two-person teams of Woods and NFL legend Peyton Manning versus Mickelson and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Tom Brady. The participants and WarnerMedia have already pledged a total of $10 million.
“In the absence of all the sports we’ve come to expect this time of year, there is an appetite for made for TV sports, especially if big celebrities are involved,” D’Ermilio said. “I expect The Match to do better than Driving Relief.”
Several additional on-course challenges for charity have already been announced, including Charles Barkley playing a ‘Bogey or Better’ hole for $200,000. Barkley, who adds to the star power of the event, will also serve as an analyst for The Match.