Fox Sports is going all out to make its inaugural coverage of the U.S. Open Golf Championship beginning Thursday a ratings winner for the network and its advertisers.
In addition to one of its largest promotional campaigns ever to stoke viewer interest, the telecast itself will feature virtual reality, aerial drones and camera cars.
The network is pre-empting its entire primetime entertainment programming lineup on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights to televise the Open. It’s the first time a broadcast network has televised the U.S. Open four nights consecutively in primetime.
Marketers are responding in a big way. Sources at Fox say the four days and 38.5 hours of live on-course coverage on Fox and Fox Sports 1 is just about sold out, except for a handful of units held back for late buyers or as-you-go makegoods.
The four major USGA sponsors – American Express, Rolex, Lexus and IBM – have bought commercial time on Fox, believed to be the first time that all four made network buys in the same tournament.
Other major marketers in the telecasts include Anheuser-Busch, Chrysler, DirecTV, Charles Schwab, Microsoft, Workday, Titleist and Callaway.
Most of the advertisers bought packages that not only include the Open, but also include the three other USGA events that Fox and FS1 will be televising this summer – the U.S. Senior Open Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open Championship and the U.S. Amateur Championship.
Fox has been selling its first-time golf coverage since the 2014 upfront.
The 115th U.S. Open Championship will be televised live from Chambers Bay Golf Course in University Place, Wash.
To try to drum up viewer interest in the telecasts, Fox undertook what it describes as the “largest marketing effort in the history of the U.S. Open” and “one of the biggest ever executed by Fox Sports” comprised of TV, digital, print, radio and out-of-home signage.
Promo spots have been running on Fox broadcast network, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports Regional Networks, FX and local Fox affiliated stations, along with ads on CNN, History, Discovery and Comedy Central.
There have also been video promos on sports websites like Sports Illustrated and Sporting News, along with social media buys on Facebook and Twitter. Print ads were bought in Golf Digest, The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal. The full-page newspaper ads will run on Thursday, start day of the Open Championship.
Out-of-home signage was also bought in New York’s Times Square, in major points in Los Angeles and inside the Seattle/Tacoma International Airport, less than an hour’s ride from Chambers Bay.
On Thursday and Friday, June 18 and 19, the first eight hours of coverage – from 12 noon to 8 p.m. will be televised by Fox Sports 1. Fox broadcast network will televise live coverage from 8 p.m.-11 p.m. both nights.
On Saturday Fox will cover the Open live from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sunday from 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. If there is a tie at the end of Sunday’s round, an 18-hole playoff will air on Fox on Monday June 22 beginning at 2:30 p.m.
Next week, Fox and FS1 will televise the U.S. Senior Open Championship from Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif. FS1 will carry the first two rounds on Thursday, June 25 and Friday, June 26, while Fox broadcast network will carry the two final rounds on Saturday and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The two networks will also televise the U.S. Women’s Open Championship from Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club July 9-12 and the U.S. Amateur Championship from Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club, Aug. 17-23, in similar fashion with Fox broadcast network televising the two weekend rounds.
However, the Men’s U.S. Open Championship is the only one that Fox broadcast network will televise four nights straight in primetime.
Joe Buck, who has announced 17 World Series and four Super Bowls for Fox, will be the lead U.S. Open announcer for the network, his first time doing golf. He will be joined by lead analyst Greg Norman and there will be seven other former pro golfers taking part in the coverage.
Fox has also signed up composer/conductor Brian Tyler, who has scored more than 70 major motion pictures, to put together the “official soundtrack” for Fox Sports U.S. Open coverage. His music will be interspersed throughout the four days of coverage.
All of the tech initiatives that will be implemented during coverage are part of the new Fox Lab, a unit designed to explore technical partnerships that give viewers a fresh perspective and ad sales teams more ways to target viewers with brand integrations.
Fox Sports’ aerial drone cameras will be used for early morning course flyovers, scenic shots and hole mapping. Remote controlled camera-equipped cars will walk viewers along the course offering a ground-level perspective.
Fox will also use some virtual reality cameras on the course which the network says will be the first live, multi-camera VR broadcast experience in history. There will also be tower cams, multiple tee cams and hole microphones.
“We have had people shooting with drones, helicopters and on the ground. We will have every angle of that areas and that golf course covered,” says Mark Loomis, coordinating producer for Fox coverage.
“We are going to try and do a lot of things there to make the viewer feel like they are playing the golf course right in front of them,” Loomis adds. “We’re trying to get some dimensions to the greens, increase the audio from the course, and give you a better look of what the shot looks like to the golfer from the golfer’s view. The technology is part of the experience.”
Responding to some critics who are concerned that Fox will be tampering with traditional golf coverage, Buck says, “What a boring world it would be if changing things up was so frowned upon that they were scared to do it. In 1994, everyone freaked out about Fox putting the score in the corner of the screen. If we are going to go into this event worrying what the traditional golf fan thinks, we’re dead. Fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, a little energy and looking at the same format from a different angle are good things.”
Fox won the rights to the four USGA tournaments away from NBC and ESPN by paying what sources say is $1.2 billion over 12 years, or $100 million per year. That amount dwarfs the reported $37 million per year combined that NBC and ESPN were paying.
With that much invested, Fox is going all out to start out on the right foot. And it won’t be easy. Last year’s final round of the U.S. Open on NBC drew only 4.6 million viewers, down from 8.4 million in 2013. However, the Open final round had to go up against a Men’s World Cup soccer match on ABC between France and Honduras.
Fox is hoping to draw in golf fans to its Thursday and Friday night primetime coverage and keep them coming back to the broadcast network all day and night Saturday and Sunday.
One thing going for Fox is that Tiger Woods is healthy and ready to compete. Buck on Wednesday taped an interview segment with Woods that will air at some point during coverage.