NBC U.S. Open coverage draws criticism, ratings; KPMG to go commercial-free
In the end, the U.S. Open proved a fitting Hollywood story.
The City of Stars watched as a relative no-name went on to win its biggest event in decades, clinching a victory from the grasp of two of the sport’s most recognizable (and beloved) stars. In a weekend filled with drama (and turmoil), a nation of golf fans welcomed Wyndham Clark as its newest national champion.
Even if LACC didn’t crown the notable champion it’d been seeking from its biggest event ever, the club did welcome one of the biggest viewing audiences for a U.S. Open in some time. But that viewing audience was not without controversy — and that’s where we’ll begin this week’s Hot Mic.
The commercial conundrum
It was here just a week ago that the Hot Mic first reported the USGA and NBC had worked together to reduce commercial interruptions during the U.S. Open broadcast by some 30 percent. It was, at the time, a tremendous development for a major championship broadcast that has been overrun with interruptions ever since NBC bought back the rights from FOX in 2020. But once play began on Thursday, it was clear that commercials would continue to be one of the central talking points of tournament week.
Regrettably, NBC and the USGA had agreed to curb promos and interruptions only during the final two days of play, meaning the first two days of tournament coverage were brought to viewers with complete commercial interruption. Fans at home noticed quickly, and as has become a U.S. Open tradition, took to social media to voice their displeasure.
As I attempted to explain at the time, the situation just isn’t made for success. NBC’s agreement with the USGA — which is a renegotiation of FOX’s albatross contract with the governing body — still leaves the network with too many ads to sell to turn a profit on the agreement. Until those numbers are reworked, the only things that can save viewers are a USGA voluntary TV rights paycut (unlikely), an NBC accounting loss in pursuit of fewer commercials (not going to happen), or a unilateral advertiser agreement to pay more per advertisement (nope!).
It’s a bottleneck that leaves everyone upset. But it seems like there is at least one path to success: continuing on the promo cuts that led to the weekend’s reduced interruptions throughout the entirety of tournament play.
BIG U.S. Open numbers for NBC
Before he won the U.S. Open, it seemed Wyndham Clark’s biggest moment of the week would be his criticism of the USGA decision to push back tee times on Saturday afternoon in order to accommodate a true primetime broadcast window for NBC.
“It’s TV,” he’d said as darkness fell over LACC in the minutes following his round. “But what is it, midnight on the east coast? Rickie and I had a little bit of a disadvantage playing the final few holes in the dark.”
Almost immediately, his words served as viral fodder for further criticism of the governing body, and in this instance, it might have been warranted. The USGA decision to move back tee times to almost 7 p.m. ET was a shock to most golf fans, and the late finish to Saturday’s coverage certainly didn’t help matters.
Well, it seems the proof is, in fact, in the pudding. On Monday, NBC dropped an earnings report that showed the highest viewership for the national championship since the network took over the tournament again in 2020. NBC’s average viewership for Sunday’s final round topped out at a whopping 8.8 million viewers, the highest number for the event since 2019 and a growth of more than 25 percent over last year’s Matthew Fitzpatrick victory, and peaked at some 10.2 million viewers.
Those are big numbers for the network, who benefited from a west coast major on the heels of the biggest news cycle in decades in pro golf.
Yes, commercials can be a popular talking point, but the numbers released on Monday are the only ones that matter to the folks up top at NBC.
(Another) commercial-free hour
The unquestioned high point of the U.S. Open broadcast came in the final hour of play on Sunday, when, as is tradition, Rolex sponsored a full commercial-free hour to close out play.
The commercial-free hour has become a major talking point in golf this season, particularly after Callaway partnered with NBC to show a commercial-free hour to close out the Sentry Tournament of Champions. At the time, the commercial-free hour was lauded by golf fans with near-unanimity, and it was hard to argue with the praise — it is one of the few golf TV ad ideas that actually generates consumer goodwill.
At this weekend’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, Callaway will again be sponsoring a commercial-free final hour for coverage of the second women’s major of the year at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.
The decision comes on the heels of Callaway ambassador Rose Zhang’s stunning victory to launch her career at the Mizuho Americas Open earlier this month, and marks the latest in a series of moves by the club manufacturer to become a noticeable player in the golf TV space.
Of course, this week is just one of many on the PGA Tour, but you can bet the folks tuning on Sunday afternoon will take notice.