NBC Golf chief dishes on ‘false’ allegations, analyst plans, broadcast strategy

sam flood of NBC speaks at a press event in 2019

Brandel Chamblee will handle lead analyst duties for NBC's coverage of the U.S. Open.

Getty Images

PINEHURST, N.C. — Sam Flood would rather not be part of this story.

Over the years, Flood’s employer, NBC, has taken a cautious approach to making its top executives available for interviews. Call ’em old fashioned, but the Peacock would prefer that its stars of the show be … the stars of the show. When it comes to the decision-makers responsible for hiring, firing, strategizing, budgeting and managing those stars? Well, their actions should speak louder than their words.

So when NBC offered up the head of its golf coverage at a U.S. Open preview day on Monday morning — the same day the network announced its official coverage plans for next month’s U.S. Open — Flood’s availability was noteworthy in itself. For the first time since assuming control of Golf Channel’s day-to-day operations last August and shifting into the de facto steward of NBC’s golf coverage, Flood, whose formal title is executive producer and president of production, was ready to speak on several thorny topics swirling around NBC Golf. And, for roughly 30 minutes with lead event producer Tommy Roy by his side, that’s what Flood did.

At the center of the conversation were accusations leveled in an explosive Golf Digest story that pinned NBC management, and Flood more specifically, for kneecapping the network’s golf coverage financially, strategically and editorially over the last couple of years. The story, by Dave Shedloski, quotes NBC Golf sources bemoaning the network’s lack of direction, investment and enthusiasm under Flood, whose nearly four-decade tenure with NBC has seen him rise from the bottom of the network food chain to become only the seventh executive producer in NBC Sports history.

NBC refused an interview request for the story in the weeks before it was published, which would have allowed Flood to defend his overarching strategy for the network’s golf telecasts and refute points in the reporting that both he and Roy now say are untrue. Like, for example, the charge that Flood doesn’t care about golf as a sport. (“I’m a golfaholic,” he said. “I belong to two great clubs, I love to play and I grind like maniac.”) But on Monday, Flood wanted to talk.

Flood, unsurprisingly, said he disagrees with the characterization of NBC Golf as a decaying, “penny-pinching” entity. From a restaurant table by the 18th hole at Pinehurst No. 2, he spoke about his in-motion plans to innovate golf television — and pointed to a glimmering new U.S. Open broadcast strategy as proof that money is the least of NBC’s problems.

“It’s a completely false narrative,” he said when asked about the allegation that NBC has been cheapening its golf product. “We are investing and looking at opportunities to grow the game and make the audience bigger. Tommy has had more assets and more resources than he’s had in the last few years.”

Added Roy: “This narrative was accurate for several years about stuff being taken out of the broadcast. Sam has switched that around. We’re getting the toys back.”

sam flood of NBC speaks at a desk press conference
NBC executive producer Sam Flood (left) speaks at an INDYCAR press conference. Getty

Without poring over the balance sheets, it’s hard to say definitively how NBC’s investment in 2024 compares to its investment in, say, 2014, but it’s easier to understand a few of the reasons why Flood thinks NBC’s spending habits are now under a microscope.

One explanation is the network’s week-to-week golf coverage. Some of those events have had less tech in ’24, including fewer cameras and shot tracers, Flood said, pointing to a conscious editorial decision to place a greater emphasis on the biggest events. You might have noticed that NBC’s coverage from this year’s Players Championship, which received positive reviews, had more add-ons than any other Tour event this season. That was no accident. The U.S. and British Opens, which NBC also broadcasts, will have a similar big-time feel.

“We looked at the entire portfolio, and we decided to lean in where the audience is going to be bigger,” Flood said. “We use our resources smartly at the other events. You have to look at things through the lens that NBC tournament golf, Golf Channel tournament golf and the Golf Channel studios are one big bucket. You look at the whole bucket and you take advantage of the moment you can grow the game, engage the audience and give the biggest audience the best possible experience.”

But it also matters who’s behind the mic engaging those audiences, and NBC has been struggling to crack that piece of the broadcast puzzle. The network’s on-air squad has contracted under Flood in the last few years, with the departures of lead analyst Paul Azinger and longtime course reporters Gary Koch and Roger Maltbie. While CBS quickly filled openings for its own recently departed voices, including Nick Faldo and Gary McCord, NBC leadership has taken a more piecemeal approach to backfilling its vacancies.

Take the opening left by Azinger — arguably one of the four biggest jobs in golf television — which NBC has filled this season with a revolving door of guest analysts. As part of Monday’s U.S. Open coverage announcement, NBC said two more lead analyst hopefuls (and NBC analysts presently under contract), Brandel Chamblee and Brad Faxon, would handle lead analyst duties at the U.S. Open, while Koch and Maltbie will be invited back for all four days at Pinehurst in their previous roles. (Flood, along with several NBC employees, insisted that the USGA has known about the decision to have Faxon and Chamblee serve as analysts for “weeks, if not months.”) Luke Donald, another tryout candidate, will serve as the network’s top analyst at the Open Championship in July. No full-time hirings are imminent.

“I think if we find the right person [we’ll hire someone full-time],” Flood said. “But right now, we think for the audience, they’re benefiting by hearing all this different perspective. And it’s kind of fun every week to figure out who’s going to be on and how it all meshes together. For the rest of this year, we’ve got this going on — but who knows what’s going to happen next year?”

Flood said these decisions are not being motivated by a network ethos toward cost-cutting, even if in an earnings call in late 2022, Comcast chief executive Brian Roberts outlined a plan to cut some $1 billion from NBCUniversal in the coming years — a division of the company that includes NBC Golf. It does seem unlikely that NBC would dial back on spending on on-air talent at a time when sports networks, NBC included, are falling over themselves to sign broadcasters to big-money deals, knowing that quality on-air talent can mask other network flaws. (NBC pays host Mike Tirico, who regularly contributes to the network’s golf coverage, a reported $10.5 million annually.)

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It also seems unlikely that NBC would withdraw from televising professional golf now, only halfway through a decade-long, multi-billion-dollar agreement with the PGA Tour and at a time when sports TV rights deals are largely regarded as the single-most valuable asset in entertainment. The U.S. Open deal will be renegotiated at year’s end, but that won’t do anything to affect the network’s long-term deals with the PGA Tour, the Open Championship and the Ryder Cup.

Rather, on the eve of NBC’s biggest golf telecast of the year, Flood is asking golf fans to believe a different narrative, one that has him on a crusade to innovate NBC’s golf coverage — and willing to absorb flack and bad optics to get it right.

At NBC, Flood has a reputation as a trailblazer, credited for creating the “Inside the Glass” analyst position that is S.O.P. on hockey broadcasts. At Pinehurst next month, NBC will try Flood’s new “odd-even” strategy in which play-by-play broadcasters and analysts are paired based on odd- and even-numbered holes. The method has made NBC’s telecasts more lively, as has the addition of Smylie Kaufman’s weekly Happy Hour segments (which Flood also introduced). Are they groundbreaking? It’s too early to say, particularly without any sense of week-to-week continuity.

Big picture, these are challenging times for golf television — with sagging ratings and negotiations between the PGA Tour and the Saudi Public Investment Fund stretching into their 12th month. The sport’s few TV broadcast partners, particularly NBC, have received biting criticism from fans over what is viewed by many as an overly commercialized product. And smaller audiences and a prolonged battle between the PGA Tour and LIV might send the commercial load even higher. In some ways, this is the most damning piece of evidence against NBC in 2024: Why would it want to invest in golf right now? Why would any broadcaster?

When I posed that question to Flood, he grinned.

“I’m a Boston boy — Brady and Belichick, when they won their six Super Bowls, what did they say? Do your job,” he said. “We’ve gotta give Bill the weapons. We’ll give him Brady, we’ll give him Welker, we’ll give him Gronk. We’ve got to do our job.”

It’s hard to say who Flood is in this analogy, and maybe that’s the point.

He’d prefer we talk about someone else.

You can reach me at james.colgan@golf.com. Sign up for the Hot Mic Newsletter to receive my insights direct to your inbox each week.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.

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