BY BRANDON COSTA| Director of Digital | Sports Video Group
The weather didn’t always cooperate at last weekend’s PGA Championship, but, by the time, young American Justin Thomas captured his first major championship, it had been a successful weekend for all involved at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, NC, including the team behind the social-media efforts for Turner Sports and PGA.com.
Among the content highlights: a live drone flyover of the course aired on Facebook Live on Friday morning, a daily 360-degree pin placement revealed where users could immerse themselves in all 18 greens, a Sunday Snapchat story brought golf fans even closer to the action and the big moments of the tournament’s final day, and — in one of the greatest signs of increased respect for social media — one of the very first interviews with Thomas was granted to PGA.com and aired live on Turner’s Facebook page.
Turner Sports’ social-media efforts were comprehensive, with a staff of 14 deployed all over the course throughout the week’s festivities, creating unique content for Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat and pushing the envelope technologically to help cover the event in a totally new way. The team had its own B unit in the compound to support those efforts and also had dedicated space in the media center.
Friday’s Facebook Live broadcast of the drone flyover was made possible through a partnership with CNN Air, a group that possesses both the talent and the FCC authorizations to fly drones for commercial purposes. Using a LiveU device strapped to a golf cart, a driver and drone pilot were able to drive the length of the 18-hole course and give viewers a peek at what was to come throughout the weekend in a completely new way.
Wickline acknowledges that it’s a unique challenge to cover a multiday sports event like a golf or tennis tournament in the social-media space. It wouldn’t be possible, he points out, without the robust resources made available by the linear-television end of the production. The wide variety of types of content in Turner’s coverage across multiple platforms this weekend reflects the broadcaster’s goal to diversify content and keep it intriguing and engaging for the duration of the tournament.
“Every other sport exists within an arena where everything is self-contained; rarely do you have more than one event happening at the same time,” says Wickline. “Here, you have a hundred and some golfers all doing their own thing on 18 different holes and a driving range and a putting green. It’s this vast landscape that you’re trying to boil down into what the most critical pieces of content are for that event.
“What we really have to do is leverage the cameras that already exist on the course,” he continues. “That’s why our live-coverage plan is so integral to what we’re doing: it enables us to see everything that’s going on everywhere, and we don’t have to send 19,000 people out to do that job. We can kind of have a centralized hub there.”
Over the weekend, Snapchat became increasingly important to the coverage. Turner Sports has loads of experience with the platform, having covered the PGA Championship on Snapchat for three years. The presence of Snapchat reflects the younger voice that the PGA.com and Turner Sports social-media team are hoping to bring to a sport that has long been considered a game for an older crowd.
“Our voice has to be younger,” says Wickline, comparing social-media and traditional coverage. “I mean, we’re going after a demo that is mobile first, so our content, whether it be live or on demand, has got to speak to that audience and deliver content to them in the way that they’re going to consume it.”
That voice was a main driver for bringing in a celebrity personality to help host some of the social-media coverage: Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala. The two-time NBA champ — and avid golfer — popped up all over Turner’s coverage of the tournament but was a major contributor on content for platforms like Snapchat.
“By doing things like this, we’re broadening our fan base, and we’re tapping into different groups to try to make it more than your traditional television–median-age crowd,” says Wickline. He adds that the median age for the social-media golf fan is much closer to the mid 30s. “We’re aware that, if we want to succeed in the social space and if we want to grow golf and grow a golf audience, we have to do more than just mimic what’s happening on TV.”