April 27, 2009

Whither Now, LPGA? Opportunity Missed, For No Good Reason

This weekend the women's circuit had a classic duel no one could see, while the men and the old men occupied the golf spectra.

After my morning round yesterday and a quick beer-nap (one beer and a 30 minute siesta) I flipped around looking for the LPGA. It was nowhere to be seen, not on Golf Channel, none of the major networks, not even on We or Oxygen or any of the Fox and ESPN family of networks. To be completely forthright, I wanted to see if the Wie One had managed to right her ship on Sunday, but I was also curious to see how Lorena Ochoa and Suzann Petterson would handle the remaining holes in their tournament. Anyhow, it was what I went looking for first.

There was a mildly interesting playoff in Champions Tour, then a fairly decent war of attrition on the PGA Tour's New Orleans stop, but the best golf of the day was in Mexico and it was a knockdown, drag-out battle between Lorena Ochoa and Suzann Petterson in the final round of the Corona Classic.

Or so I hear.

Even finding a decent story about this tournament on the Internet was hard to do. In fact, I found endless repititions of this:

Defending champion Lorena Ochoa shot an 8-under 65 to take a 1-stroke lead over South Korea's Na Yeon Choi yesterday in the LPGA Tour's Corona Classic.

The 27 year-old Mexican had a bogey-free round with eight birdies on the Tres Marias course.

Okee dokee. Sounds very nice. Thing is the stories streaming out on Twitter and on the LPGA Facebook page were describing a classic...perhaps the best tournament golf played since last year's men's US Open. And here in America, well, we were in the dark.

Question: if a golf tournament happens, but isn't shown on TV, did it really ever happen at all?

In terms of gaining the attention of the average American sports fan -- the one that advertisers spend billions to reach -- the answer is no. It never did happen. So the Corona Classic goes in the books and for all intents and purposes down the drain unseen and unknown in the largest sporting market the LPGA competes in.

It didn't have to be that way and the solution is so obvious, I cannot fathom why the LPGA brain trust hasn't put it in place by now.

If anyone in the golf press has so little to do that they read these pages, please ask Carolyn Bivens a question for me:

"Has the LPGA ever considered using Internet live streaming tournament coverage?"

Honestly, to me, it seems like a no-brainer. If the LPGA isn't on TV, then they should televise it themselves on the Internet. Surely it was on TV...somewhere. Mexico, surely. Korea probably. The LPGA could have used the video feeds of either of those networks and used a two-person announcing team to describe things in English.

This isn't rocket science. ESPN has been doing it for some time with ESPN360, and there's justin.tv, the renegade feed collection of out-of-market events. In golf, the Masters recently streamed coverage of portions of that tournament through their site.

In my house, I could have actually seen the tournament on my television had there been an Internet feed. Without going all geek on you, the XBOX-360 is as much a media center as a game console, and it meshes in very well with Windows, and both are connected to the Internet. A couple of clicks and I am watching the 'Net on the home theatre. (That's the future of TV, by the way. Like the traditional telephone, traditional broadcast/cable TV will be obsoleted soon, and if it doesn't happen beforehand, Internet2 will finish the job.)

Twitter and Facebook are nice, but actually being able to see a good dual between two great golfers yesterday afternoon would have been even better. At the end of the day, Twitter is an advanced version of the telegraph sending telegrams widely to anyone interested, and Facebook is essentially the equivilent of a whiteboard on the door of a student's college dorm room. Neither compare to the immediacy of TV when it comes to sporting events and both were poor substitutes for a video stream, at the very least.

If the LPGA is going to survive, it is going to have to be creative and nimble, and use every single tool it can grab. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, blogs, and all of the in vogue social social media, but also using the tools that interface the Internet and the old guard of media. Streaming broadcasts is the most obvious, and the most glaringly absent one in the LPGA toolbox. If I can watch the Carolina Hurricanes hockey club play a regular season game while I am in Paraguay, and have two unique sources for the video feed, then the LPGA should be able to create a single stream source for its tournaments.

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