‘I’m on it!’: USGA CEO responds to NBC, U.S. Open commercial outrage

USGA CEO Mike Whan tweeted a response to criticism the governing body received over the U.S. Open commercial load.

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — So much for tweeting into the void.

After NBC’s Saturday broadcast from the U.S. Open sent golf Twitter into a frenzy, the USGA CEO took Sunday morning to respond right back.

“I’m on it!” Mike Whan wrote from his official account, responding to hundreds of posts from fans who felt the U.S. Open broadcast showed far too many commercials. “We have the best sports production team in the world here with our partner NBC Sports (Olympics, Super Bowl, etc.) and if the amount of interruptions are problematic, we will work with our partner to do better.”

The response marked a surprising break from the norm for the governing bodies, who rarely, if ever, publicly address criticisms of golf’s television product. Whan, who is in his first U.S. Open as acting head of the USGA, posted his response on Sunday morning, hours after NBC’s third-round broadcast came off the air.

“More TV people here than the Super Bowl (true!) so we/the USGA will work to free them up to do what they do better than anyone,” Whan said. “This has been a great U.S. Open and we will work to make 2023 at LACC even better!”

Whan’s comments shouldn’t have come as a surprise to NBC. According to multiple sources, stakeholders from both the USGA and NBC held conversations on Saturday to address the social media backlash to the broadcast, specifically in regard to the commercial load.

Ad revenue is the most important piece of any TV rights deal, and particularly so in regards to NBC’s deal with the USGA. In 2022, NBC is in the second year of its adopted agreement with the USGA — an agreement formed after the network bought out the second half of FOX’s gargantuan USGA deal. While the financial specifics of NBC’s re-brokered deal with the USGA aren’t public information, it is believed they pay a significant chunk of the $93 million per year rate negotiated by FOX.

For NBC, that figure marks a significant financial shortfall from the economics of a “normal” golf broadcast, which means that the network has to sell more advertisements than a typical week just to break even. Add in that the U.S. Open also commands the most advertiser interest of any USGA event, and suddenly the events of Saturday afternoon begin to make a little bit more sense.

It should also be noted that from a commercial load perspective, Brookline is not measurably different from any other U.S. Open. An NBC source confirmed that the commercial load on Saturday at the U.S. Open was no higher than it has been in previous years. The surge of late-afternoon ads was due to a combination of editorial decisions made by the NBC production staff, namely in order to avoid missing important moments earlier in the afternoon.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you, the fan, have to like it. Commercials distract from the viewing experience, which makes it harder to follow — and more importantly, enjoy — the action. At golf’s biggest events, that is (warranted) cause for frustration.

Still, for the commercial-beleaguered, there is at least some good news: your complaints have been heard. Both parties seem invested in finding a solution to provide golf fans with a better broadcast in the years to come. And there’s reason for optimism in the near-term, too. As is tradition, Rolex will sponsor the final hour of Sunday’s broadcast, which will air for fans commercial-free.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine on a broad range of topics. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow, during which time he cut his teeth at NFL Films, CBS News and Fox Sports. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from.