Disc Golf on TV

I was recently listening to the Smashboxx podcast. Terry Miller asked Philo Brathwaite what it will take for disc golf to take that next step towards legitimacy. Behind the question is the understanding that disc golf is growing, has been growing more than 10% a year for 40 years, and is being seen and respected by more and more people every day. Philo very quickly answered, “Obviously the big goal is to be on TV.”

Other events that have been on ESPN were quickly discussed. Poker, ping pong, spelling bees, Scrabble, chess. And it’s not like they’ve only been on once. These types of events are on annually, monthly, and even weekly. Why can’t disc golf be there? We touched on this topic in last week’s news release. I’ll expand on it here.

In my opinion, several things need to be in place in order for disc golf to get on television and, more importantly, succeed on television. Through conversations with people at Sports Broadcast Networks, things like the ESPN3 broadcast by the American disc golf tour do not move the needle inside Sports Broadcast Networks. What moves the needle is eyeballs already watching a sport. The ESPN3 eyeballs that were garnered would be a small part of a larger data picture.

So, the first thing that we need to get disc golf on TV is eyeballs. We need people watching. In order to get people watching, we need compelling story lines. Protagonists and antagonists giving us a reason for spectators to be emotionally vested. Basically, a good broadcast or show which moves us as people.

So, to build a good audience we first need to build characters for our stories. The touring Pros are our characters and the tournaments and the season as a whole are our stories. Several players have started to build their followings. They do this through social media, on-site clinics, and by winning. Growing a player’s fan base should be one of each players primary goals (in addition to playing well). Additionally, it needs to be a primary focus for the tour as a whole. This is one area the tour and the players need to work together.

The players are human. We all have good days and bad days and that is the reason that competition at the highest level is so compelling. Watching Nikko wear his emotions openly draws many people to him. Watching Nikko explode when things go wrong pushes many people away from him. Overall, he is great for the tour. If you follow disc golf, you have an opinion of Nikko. Thus, if he is on the lead card, people watching are emotionally vested, for or against him. This is what makes sports compelling.

When Eagle McMahon compares himself to the Atlanta Falcons, people can’t help but like him a bit more. My guess is at the premier events this year, many people will be rooting for him to succeed. Being human, being vulnerable, being real. These are the things that we as fans want to see. They make us emotionally vested and make watching very worthwhile.

So the players are our characters. The tournament and the season are our stories. Each event is an epic battle in and of itself. Whether someone blisters the course and has a wire-to-wire finish or there are dozens of lead changes throughout the week, either way, this story can be compelling as long as we care about the characters. One additional story the Pro Tour brings to the table is the season long story. Gaining tour points is important. Where players stand determines how easy their path will be to the Tour Championship Finals. This extra story makes all of the tournaments even more compelling.

So we have our characters and we have our stories. Now we need to be able to show and tell them well. The quality of the live broadcasts improves each year. There is more and more history to pull from, there are better and more statistics to display, and we know more and care more about the characters.

The final, and most difficult, piece is telling the story. When I watch poker, the announcers explain why a play is critical, how a player can mess up at this moment, what could happen if someone gambles wrong. I become interested because I have knowledge about what could happen and its impact on the characters in the story. When I watch Scrabble, the announcers tell me what the best possible moves are bearing in mind the letters of both players. The announcers point out several possible options for the player and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each. When a word is played, I understand its impact on the game and I understand if the player just made a mistake and how critical it might be.

Telling us the story is the key to compelling disc golf coverage. We are developing the characters, we know the story lines, the technological challenges of getting a quality video feed to the masses are being overcome. The final piece is telling the story. Once we are telling the viewers a compelling story, things will fall into place, our viewership will increase, and the Sports Broadcast Networks will take notice.

Once they take notice, we can’t expect them to live broadcast a four hour round right out of the gate. They will want to start with a condensed, edited, tournament recap show. Our partnership with Jomez Productions is the first step towards creating this show. We are excited to start the process and hope that you will join us on this journey. With you, and your eyeballs, we will succeed.

In closing, I have one request for you. Please let us know what we are doing well. Praise makes us happy to work hard to become “Disc Golf Rich”. Also, please let us know what we can improve and what you would like to see more of. Helping us make the show better will push the sport forward also.

Please watch and ask others to watch too!


  • Bobby

    February 20, 2017 at 9:52 am

    I completely agree that in order to get people to want to watch is through the telling of stories. The avid disc golfer already has some context about a player and/or event but, to get new eyeballs on the sport we have to tell the stories in such a way that it grabs the attention of those that know little about the sport. And that happens when you tell the human part of the story for the players and/or the event.

    The part that troubles me is the thinking that TV or that the big sports networks are the holy grail for our sport. Ask yourself something, what do you do when a commercial comes on during your favorite show, unless you have DVR’d the show allowing you to fast-forward through the ads, you are grabbing your phone. You are commented about what you just watched, you are checking out what others are doing, you are watching a quick video on facebook or youtube. Your mobile device is where the attention is going, and that is where disc golf needs to be.

    Don’t get me wrong, I want disc golf on ESPN. I know that the Philo’s albatross got a lot of people interested in disc golf. I understand the power of TV. I just don’t want people to get so worked up about getting disc golf on TV that they forget about the powerful resources we have right now that allow us to tell our story.

    • February 20, 2017 at 10:57 am

      I agree entirely. When I think of success in this realm, I replace “more spectators watching (online)” with “broadcast TV” in my mind. The eyeballs bring the sponsors. The story brings the eyeballs.

  • David French wheetie

    February 21, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Story story story story story..
    Awsome job on the tour.. the stats are great etc etc.. i hope you see yourselves as a new central resource for disc golf.. that being said. I think you need regional correspondents around the US (world) that know the story of the smaller name pros (and up and coming ams). I would love a monday or tuesday weekly recap.. to write a story you need back story…and i would bet there are lots of people who would like to tell the story of their local guy. (I.e. how travis chumly the kid took out HOF’r Barry Schultz again)… this would keep us looking at our devices every week like Pavlovian dogs.. (people would click just to see who was talked about)….. this is a lot of work… but i bet you have 10 guys across the US right now chomping at the bit to do it for free… if you need some names in NC let me know… ill point you their way
    Thanks again

    • Bryan Deforge

      February 25, 2017 at 1:53 am

      I was in NC for 1 day. Loved it and made sure I took my disc with me and got a round in at Springwood Player’s Course.

  • jdflyer

    February 21, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    While I think some of these elements would be helpful for moving disc golf onto TV, we still suffer from thinking in “checkers,” while TV is thinking in “3D chess.”

    For a great look at how networks evaluate sports media, review the Nielsen Report for the 2016 Year in Sports Media. Logo placement on clothing; social media engagement; sports media ecosystems; viewer data segmentation…Very sophisticated…but we could still achieve a “light” version of this for sure.


    (NOTE: This Nielsen report paints a rather rosy picture, BUT do NOT be fooled…the sports in this report are in a real crisis! Hello…disc golf…opportunity!)

    Sure, there are plenty of alternative sports on TV/ESPN…but THEY PAY FOR IT (eg. Time-buy!) The ESPN Rock-Paper-Scissors broadcast from Las Vegas was especially tough to watch, but people were betting on the outcome…$$$ helps grease the skids. Cost typically runs from $10-30,000 per hour just for the TIME-buy…production costs are additional.

    Though we all believe that disc golf is approaching TV-worthy, disc golf tournament coverage (with limited cameras) might not be as interesting as we believe. Even the PGA Tour is looking to improve their presentation, as Tee-to-green coverage just is not getting it done anymore in the post-Tiger world. Technology, unique vantage points, graphic overlays…all on the table.

    Yes…personalities are important. But do our courses look good on TV? Galleries are great, but should they be walking across fairways on their way to the basket? Scoring with throw-ins is thrilling, but scoreboards with -46 are incomprehensible.

    Bottom line…we are already on TV…and will be on more this year! Yet, we are not broadcasting disc golf on TV directly for the 250,000 passionate ones who already play…we are producing for the 60+ million CBS Sports Network viewers who are thinking about playing…maybe that’s the key to unlocking our sport on TV.

    Ask Paul McBeth…I questioned him a decade ago at Milo McIver, “How we will know when disc golf has made it?” His answer too was, “When we are on TV.” And it was a good answer.

    Yet I agree with Bobby…TV for TV sake is a shallow goal…but getting disc golf on TV to increase youth sports participation (trending down over the last decade) or to isolate one player’s struggles to compete (Ricky Wysocki at the Glass Blown after getting T-boned 2 years ago) or to save a public park (pick one) or to highlight the science behind what makes a disc fly (Why is a disc “understable?”) or as a platform to show off the RV life (Nate and Val)…now that’s more like big media chess!

    I love this stuff and am always willing to discuss. Maybe a themed media workshop at this year’s Pro Worlds could do us some good.

    “Why Should Disc Golf be on TV? Why not?”

    Sorry to be so long-winded…

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