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What We Can Learn from NBC’s Success at Airing The Open Championship

Over the last two years, NBC has been able to recreate how golf fans watch The Open Championship.

The 2017 Open Championship was a success for NBC Sports Group (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

In 2015, NBC Sports Group agreed to terms with the R&A to air The Open Championship (British Open) as they outbid both ESPN and Fox Sports.

This was a win for NBC Sports Group as they would now hold the rights to another major championship. However, the deal left some questioning the decision to pay over $50 million per year to the rights of the least watched major championship — a championship whose average viewership had barely topped 2 million viewers twice in the last five years, with Tiger Woods finishing in the top 10 in both those years.

Now fast forward to 2017, and NBC just had an average TV viewership of 4.91 million viewers for the 146th Open Championship. This makes this year’s Open Championship the most watched Open Championship since 2009, which ended in a 4-hole playoff that included a 59-year-old Tom Watson.

Over the last two years, NBC has been able to recreate how golf fans watch The Open Championship.

In 2016, NBC’s first year airing The Open Championship, they rolled out a new strategy on how to broadcast The Open. NBC Sports Group went all in on live coverage of The Open Championship and used their Golf Channel as a platform to provide this live coverage.

Along with live coverage, NBC also wanted to air more coverage of The Open than ever before, while providing the fans multiple viewing options.

Since NBC started broadcasting The Open Championship in 2016, they have gained large audiences of almost 5 million average viewers on their Sunday rounds. These large audiences are now similar to the U.S. Open average viewing numbers and almost double the viewing numbers of The Open Championship when it was aired on ESPN.

It is safe to say NBC Sports Groups broadcasting strategy for The Open Championship has been a success.

Why the difference? There are a few reasons.

Tape Delayed Coverage of Sporting Events No Longer Works

The traditional idea by television broadcasters was to air The Open Championship on a tape delay. This is a reasonable approach considering The Open is played at very early times for eastern viewers and even earlier times for more western time zones. Traditionally, the early rounds that took place as early 1:30 AM Eastern Time never made it on live TV.

For years, Disney had been following this traditional tape delayed approach at The Open. In 2010, Disney started to offer live coverage of the tournament on ESPN, while continuing to offer tape delayed highlights on ABC.

When NBC took over the broadcasting rights in 2016, they went all in on live coverage.

NBC started live coverage of The Open Championship on Golf Channel at 1:30 AM Eastern Time and at 4:30 AM Eastern Time for weekend rounds. This live coverage aired all morning and into the mid-afternoon.

The morning live coverage elevated the NBC’s Golf Channel into the most watched cable sports network for Thursday and Friday mornings. NBC’s weekend live coverage on NBC was also a success as their coverage had large audiences, even while being aired in the morning.

The success provides evidence that sports fans no longer want to watch tape delayed coverage. We live in a world of easy to access information, and fans are able to get news moments after it happens.

News and social media platforms allow fans to follow a sporting event as it happens, and TV networks must now air their programming live.

Tape delayed coverage is no longer exciting as fans know what’s going to be the outcome of the sporting events. Along with losing excitement, taped delayed sporting events are unable to leverage social media like live broadcast can.

Live Streaming is a Requirement

Along with NBC’s live coverage strategy, they also offered all of their coverage on streaming platforms. Golf Channel’s Golf Live Extra platform and The Open’s official website offered streaming options of the tournament. These platforms allowed fans to consume the tournament through multiple platforms, ultimately making it easier for fans to watch the tournament.

This strategy worked, as The Open Championship set a new NBC record as the most streamed golf event ever aired on NBC. These streaming viewers escalated this year’s Open Championship total viewing numbers and significantly contributed to making this the most watched Open Championship since 2009.

Strictly television viewership numbers were actually down for this year’s Open Championship compared to 2016; however, an increase in streaming viewers more than made up for the loss in normal television viewers.

NBC’s streaming success adds to its long list of sporting events having increased streaming viewership. As normal television viewership slowly decreases, networks will need to leverage streaming platforms to not decrease total viewership.

Options, Options, Options!

Television, computers, tablets, and phones are now all platforms for viewing sporting events. NBC recognized this and were able to offer viewing options on all platforms. NBC Sports Group used Golf Channel and NBC to offer television coverage and options. Previously mentioned streaming options of Golf Live Extra and The Open Championship official website provided fans ways to watch The Open on their computer or tablet. Last but not least, NBC also aired coverage through apps to make it easier for fans to watch the tournament on their mobile device.

NBC used their Golf Live Extra App and The Open Championship official app to stream all coverage of the tournament. The Open Championship even offered fans the option of radio listening through their phone. In all, there is no doubt that all these options played a role in making the 2017 Open Championship the most watched Open Championship since 2009.

We can all learn from the success of NBC Sports Group broadcasting the Open Championship. As viewing habits continue to change, NBC was able to take advantage of new trends like offering multiple streaming platforms and did not fall victim to past practices, such as taped delayed coverage. NBC bet big on The Open Championship, and it has proven to be a good investment in their first two years as broadcasting partners with the R&A.

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