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Executives Believe Golf’s ‘First-and-10 Line’ Can Help Build the Sport

NBC Sports and Topgolf are banking on growing the sport of golf, both in viewership and participation, with the Toptracer ball-tracking technology.

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Photo via Toptracer

NBC Sports Group’s use of Toptracer tech could help attract fans to golf and demonstrate the broader application of the tech to lower the barrier of entry to the game.

NBC Sports and Topgolf Entertainment Group, the parent company of Toptracer, announced a partnership this week to include the tracking technology on PGA tour telecasts this season.

“Topgolf and NBC Sports are two companies focused on technical innovation across the golf industry,” said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports Group. “This forward-thinking partnership allows us to combine our strengths to modernize how fans engage with golf.

“We’re thrilled to expand our partnership for high-quality PGA Tour coverage, but we’re equally excited to showcase technology like Toptracer Range for golf courses to help evolve the golf experience for the future and bring new fans to the sport.”

READ MORE: USOC Continues Turn to Tech to Increase Medal Counts in Tokyo

The Toptracer ball-tracking technology will be on all of NBC Sports PGA Tour golf telecasts, starting with the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which tees off on Jan. 31. The ball tracking will be viewed on either live video or NBC Virtual Follow, which traces the ball’s trajectory over a graphic of the hole.

Rather than just a white ball in the air, the Toptracer tech provides 3D flight data analytics, including ball speed, apex, curve and carry. Topgolf acquired and rebranded Protracer is 2016.

Toptracer President Ben Sharpe said he’s excited the potential the partnership brings to fans watching a golf broadcast and equated it to football’s introduction of the First-and-10 line.

“When it started, it was [Founder Daniel Forsgren] watching and seeing the ball in the air, but didn’t know if it’s fading or drawing,” Sharpe said. “He was trying to find a way to show information for golf fans of all knowledge levels to appreciate.”

Sharpe previously worked at TaylorMade Golf Company, including a stint as CEO, until 2015 and joined Toptracer in 2018, despite not looking to get back into golf. He said he saw the opportunity of the technology to grow the game, which he loves and is now having the “most fun ever” in his career.

The partnership’s announcement also mentioned the potential of future content development initiatives.

What Sharpe is potentially most excited about is the partnership’s ability to help commercialize the Toptracer technology beyond the Topgolf locations — which see 18 million people annually. He said the partnership will accelerate the technology’s implementation at golf courses and driving ranges, opening up access to the game.

NBC Sport’s Golf division includes GolfNow, an online tee time and booking platform, which is now the official sales partner for Toptracer Range, the consumer-facing product for golf facilities.

“We’re in the business of helping our golf course partners leverage these new concepts to attract more golfers to their facilities and build their businesses,” said Will McIntosh, executive vice president of strategy for golf at NBC Sports. “Toptracer Range is a perfect example and we’re looking forward to showcasing this new technology to our partners around the world.”

READ MORE: Why Mastercard Holders Will Soon Get Unique Benefits From Topgolf

The Toptracer Range places a camera on the bays, with in-bay monitors, which provide similar data seen on the broadcasts. The data can then be tracked through different sessions on the company’s mobile app.

The technology at a driving range can open up virtual games, such as longest drive and closest to the pin competitions and virtual golf courses.

“We’re all consuming more media through digital form now and what we can do is digitize the game and bring it to a much wider demographic,” Sharpe said. “In an industry that people say participation is down because it takes too long or is too hard, we want to get people back in.

“We’re creating a leisure activity where family and friends can have an enjoyable experience on a range, when they used to be for middle-aged males.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

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Golf Digest Back Charging For Growth With New Owner

Golf Digest is set to embark on its third ownership transition in its nearly 70 years of operation and all signs point to growth under new owners.

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Photo Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Discovery, Inc. continues its drive into golf with the acquisition of Golf Digest.

Discovery had already entered the golf space, attaining exclusive rights deals outside the U.S. for the PGA Tour, European Tour and Ladies European Tour. GOLFTV, an international streaming service launched by Discovery this past New Year’s Day, is in year one of a 12-year, $2.4 billion deal carrying the PGA Tour’s TV and streaming rights outside the U.S. Discovery also has global content deals with Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari, using GOLFTV as its platform.

The bullish approach follows the trend of niche content in today’s media landscape. Discovery knows this firsthand with Food Network and MotorTrend. In sports, Discovery has had success with Eurosport and realizes sport fans crave consistent coverage.

READ MORE: The Caddie Network Partnership With Golf Digest Shows Power of Niche Platforms

“We’re looking to evolve our business and investing in content and genres that work for traditional and digital channels,” says Alex Kaplan, Discovery Golf president and general manager. “We learned from our experience with Eurosport Player, it’s very difficult to build an engaged fanbase when we offer multi-sport content.

“Let’s go deep into a specific vertical. Golf rights were available in an expansive way, and it’s not just compelling to watch, but fans play it, buy it, travel for it. It’s an ecosystem that was particularly compelling.”

The acquisition includes all brands under the Golf Digest brand, including Golf World, Golf Digest Schools and The Loop. According to the press release, Golf Digest attracts 4.8 million monthly readers and 60 million monthly video views. That’s along with its 2.2 million social followers.

This is Golf Digest’s third transition of ownership in its nearly 70 years of operation. All three have brought the media company different advantages, says Golf Digest editor Jerry Tarde, who’s been with the company for 42 years.

Tarde said The New York Times, which acquired the magazine in 1969, brought the basics and values of journalism, while Conde Nast, the owner since 2001, brought design, art and sophistication to the brand. Now, Tarde believes Discovery will bring growth.

Tarde, along with being editor-in-chief, gains a new title and role: Discovery Golf global head of strategy and content.

“This is an organization we’re at the heart of, in terms of developing sports and connecting with a high-value audience that’s passionate about the subject,” Tarde says. “This is the most exciting thing to happen to Golf Digest since it was founded in 1950. It lights a fire under us and gives us an opportunity to improve and expand U.S. coverage.

“We’ll also be able to extend it worldwide to more than 200 countries.”

On the other side of the equation, the acquisition gives Discovery a golf presence in the U.S. Kaplan said Discovery has been collecting its golf assets and knew an editorial vertical would be crucial, but it could take years to build. The Golf Digest acquisition allows Discovery to acquire that piece with one check.

“Our offering to golf fans and golf advertisers is now that of a global platform,” Kaplan says. “We can bring an aggregated golf audience anywhere in the world.”

READ MORE: GolfPass Could Set Standard in 21st-Century Sports Media

With a strong strategy in place, it will be business as usual for the time being, Tarde says, but there will be talk of new ideas and potential investments. Discovery will retain Golf Digest staff, continue the U.S. monthly print product and acquire global licenses for editions 70 countries.

“We’ve got a great team that’s been underutilized, really,” Tarde said. “Because of the way the publishing economy has been treated, our business has been in retreat. That’s now the way I spent my first 30 years. We were charging.

“This is the exciting part, we’re back on the charge.”

Like Tiger Woods on the prowl on Sunday.

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Inside the XFL’s New TV Deals

With nine months to go until its first game, the XFL has locked in its lineup of broadcast partners for all 43 regular season games.

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Photo Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

With nine months to go until its first game, the XFL has locked in its lineup of broadcast partners.

The deals will see all 43 games appear on either broadcast or cable TV and will see them divided up between ABC, Fox, ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and FS2.

What do you need to know?

1. – 24 of the XFL’s 43 games to be on broadcast TV (13 on ABC; 11 on Fox)

2. – According to Joe Flint of the WSJ, the deals are for three years, but no cash is changing hands.

3. – As part of the deals, the broadcast partners will cover the production costs of the games, which John Ourand notes will run $400,000 per game.

4. – Disney and Fox will keep all the television advertising inventory for the games while the XFL will handle the selling of sponsorships in the venues, according to Flint.

Will we see a repeat of 2001? 

The XFL’s reboot will come 19 years after McMahon and company attempted to make spring football a thing. Like the AAF this year, the league started with a promising opening night and then sputtered to the end. By the end of its first and only season, the XFL saw its ratings fall from a 9.5 to a 1.5 at their lowest point, according to OSW Review.

While the first time around may have not gone as planned, executives from all sides of the table are enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“The effort Vince is throwing behind it with his own personal capital and the combination of Fox and Disney platforms give us the best chance to make spring football work.” – ESPN programming chief Burke Magnus to Joe Flint of the WSJ.

Rolling into upfronts…

The announcement of the deals couldn’t have come at a more strategic time for all parties involved with upfronts scheduled to begin in six days. Given the fact that the broadcast partners will be responsible for selling ads, it would be rather surprising if the XFL inventory wasn’t included in their presentations.

Last year alone, the television upfront market for commercials generated $20.8 billion in commitment from advertisers, up 5.2% from the previous year, according to an estimate by Media Dynamics.

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Why Fewer Ad Breaks are Coming to the Super Bowl

Fox will be cutting back the number of commercial breaks for the big game by one, having only four breaks per quarter instead of five.

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Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

Next year’s Super Bowl might feel slightly different to viewers.

That’s because Fox will be cutting back the number of commercial breaks for the big game by one, having only four breaks per quarter instead of five, according to Brian Steinberg of Variety.

Fewer breaks, but the same amount of commercials…

Although Fox will be cutting down one whole commercial break each quarter, the four that remain will be slightly longer, allowing the broadcaster to still have the same amount of slots for advertisers even with fewer breaks in the action.

This isn’t a first for the NFL…

The league has been working with broadcast partners since last year to find new ways to deliver advertisements during telecasts. The initiative last year focused on delivering more sponsored vignettes and less “billboard” ads, a change that could be difficult at times for the networks seeing as in the past they have used the “billboard” inventory as bonuses to big-spending sponsors, according to Variety.

Why do they want to cut down? According to calculations from Streaming Observer’s Chris Brantner, the average NFL fan watches almost 24 hours of advertisements in a season.

Or other leagues…

As leagues battle for the attention of their consumers, making sure they give them less time to check their phone or change the channel has become a priority.

Earlier this year, MLB announced that it was planning to reduce each national commercial break by 25 seconds, NASCAR has been using split screen advertising since its days on ESPN back in 2011, and the NBA has done it with ESPN during timeouts.

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