The recent YouGov poll made the headlines when it named golf as the most boring sport to watch. Like all polls the results are based on the way the questions are framed and to whom the questions were put. In this instance there doesn’t appear to be a distinction between watching the sport live or watching on television nor does it take into account whether the respondents played that particular sport.
With that in mind should golf be concerned? The numbers of people attending tournaments live doesn’t seem to be declining and certainly the atmosphere generated at The Open shows no sign of deteriorating, so watching the sport live doesn’t seem to be a problem. Obviously those that attend tournaments are enthusiasts already and if asked in the survey would probably answer that golf is not boring to watch.
So for non-golfers, why do they find it boring? Firstly, by its nature golf is a technical challenge and due to the distance that’s covered it takes a long time to play. The technicalities of the game can easily be missed by the non-golfer and they won’t be impressed by the skill shown unless they can appreciate how difficult it is to play. A normal tournament lasts for 4 days and as each player is taking over 5 hours to complete a round there are very few who can spare the necessary amount of time to watch the event from start to finish.
The amount of time it takes to play, and therefore watch, is possibly the major problem with the way that the game is perceived. Cricket has the same issue and it is only by reinventing the game in the Twenty20 format that it has started to attract new spectators to the sport. Golf is trying various ways to make the game more attractive to people by presenting it in different formats for television specials to cope with societies shorter attention span.
This maybe the reason why YouTube has become so popular for golf content among those who are passionate about the game, and those who previously played but lost interest in recent years. These course vlogs tend to be much shorter in duration lasting around twenty minutes each which gives viewers the highlights of a round, often with creative editing and artistic pre-prepared camera angles, often accompanied by a musical soundtrack. This style of content is completely different to that used on Sky Sports or the BBC which have to convey the concentration of the players and quiet atmosphere of the crowd. When you sit and consider the two different styles that are presented (YouTube and traditional television), they pitch the sport in very different ways. Would non-golfers still feel as bored by the game if they watched YouTube content as oppose to the professional competition content on television?
Finally, and this maybe a controversial question, but does the rise in popularity of YouTube video content from the likes of Mark Crossfield, Rick Shiels, and Peter Finch et al also mean that the core golfing community prefer this more bite sized approach to the game? Are we, as golf lovers ourselves, sub-consciously choosing to watch less of the professional players on the PGA and European Tour on television for something which suits our busier lives better, can access anywhere irrespective of device or Sky Sports account, can engage with the presenters via social media, and can also relate to better?
Scrolling through comments on various videos on YouTube channels, from the large channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers to the smaller ones which are growing quickly, is that people enjoy the human side to the game that YouTubers provide – both from the perspective of players they can relate to (i.e. golfers who can make bad shots as well as great ones) and also the social side of playing golf – the dynamic between between the shots, the banter between players enjoying their sport. This is one of the big reasons why we all play, to socialise with friends, but this element is missing on much of the television coverage of the professional circuit due to the high stakes.
What is your view?