However small you think disc golf is, think smaller.— Green Splatter (@GreenSplatter) January 24, 2023
“Why are they showing Cornhole/Pickleball on ESPN and not disc golf?”
This is a very common question I get from the disc golf community when they come in the pro shop. It’s understandable, and I think it’s worth exploring where disc golf is at and where those other sports are at.
First off. My sentiment is always that you should be happy for the fans of those sports. How you feel about disc golf is exactly how someone else feels about pickleball.
Instead of complaining about television picking up other niche sports, be happy for them. Try to enjoy watching their sport on television for a bit.
Also, money. Money is the reason that disc golf isn’t on television.
No one who works in programming for ESPN cares about “growing the sport.” They care about creating revenue by creating engaging content for their viewers. So they can report those numbers to the advertisers who can report those numbers to their bosses.
Then the shareholders are happy and their bosses are happy. Television is about making money, (public access excluded).
Until disc golf can prove that it’s worth showing over other sports you won’t see it regularly on television.
It’s difficult to estimate the number of disc golfers in the world. UDisc tries to, the PDGA tries to, and I try to as well. But Cornhole has an active player base of 100,000 (registered players like PDGA), and Pickleball has 4.8 million players in the US.
We’ve got 69,901 active members in the PDGA, and we hit the 244,986 total players mark when I started writing this blog. I care about the number, because that’s who is going to explain to their friends what they’re watching.
A majority of Americans have played basketball. I don’t know if I’ve been to a gymnasium that didn’t have basketball lines on the court. We’ve all tried making a free throw or a 3 pointer and missed the backboard a few times. So we have a general understanding and appreciation of what it takes to play basketball. When you see a great shot on tv, you know most of the rules, and the difficulty of the sport.
Most Americans haven’t played a round of disc golf.
Having a passionate viewer with an understanding of the rules of the game is important to get the ball rolling. The next step is building intrigue.
When the first DGPT event was on tv, it was posted everywhere. November 24th at 8 pm in 2020. I remember seeing facebook statuses from lots of folks about making sure to watch, I saw tweets, and I was letting folks know as well. We wanted that first viewership number to be a big one.
It drew in 225,000 viewers.
ESPN showed the 2020 Pro Tour Finals featuring Kevin Jones, Calvin Heimburg, Austin Hannum, and Chris Dickerson.
It was against shows like The Bachelorette and NCIS which took 4 million and 9.8 million viewers. When I say “against shows” I mean that it ran at the same time as those shows. That’s what makes things “prime time” on tv.
Disc golf was slightly below the 300,000 average viewers that ESPN2 was used to in that time slot, but Jeff Spring was quoted as saying “Solid start.” I have to agree with his assessment. It was a compelling season finale to the DGPT. But we were missing 2 of the biggest names in the sport on the MPO side. And we all know that Paul and Ricky are ratings machines.
Then came 2021 where ESPN featured disc golf’s 2021 DGPT finals.
59,000 total viewers watched. That’s a huge decline in viewership, and probably because it went against the NFL in the time slot. I think that’s asking for disc golf to fail. It was also a pre recorded event that I had already seen versus a live NFL game.
CBS Sports Network aired the 2021 Dynamic Discs Open. But did not reveal their Nielsen ratings publicly, so we won’t ever know how many people watched. But if they’re not re-upping to show more disc golf content, it’s fairly easy to guess why.
How did other sports like Pickleball and Cornhole do on ESPN?
Well Cornhole has been shown a number of times.
Here’s an instance of it being more popular than baseball.
Here’s a few recorded audience numbers.
Cornhole has had 360,000 and 359,000 viewers. It’s had 106,000 as the low recorded point. This sport has the advantage of being at every backyard BBQ I’ve been to in the last 15 years. You know how exciting it is to see a bag hit the hole.
- It also finishes a game in at most 30 minutes.
- Plus you don’t need a lot of equipment to record it.
- You can easily film a crowd because of the small nature of the playing area.
Pickleball debuted with 621,000 viewers on CBS. It’s still got that almost 5 million player base as well. Pickleball just picked up 20 hours of tv for 2023 as well, 12 on CBS and 8 on ESPN2, with 200+ hours on ESPN+.
It’s the fastest growing sport in America, and television is looking to capitalize on it.
I love disc golf, you all do too. That’s why you’re reading a nearly 1600 word blog about the sport and its inherent shortcomings for television.
I think there’s a few other reasons that disc golf struggles on television.
Picture a Saturday morning in the summer when FPO tees off. You’re not sitting around watching ESPN are you? You’re out there with your friends making putts, maybe you’re in a B-Tier you’ve paid 75 dollars to enter, and 10 dollars for a 2 pizza slice lunch with chips and soda. Maybe you’re mowing your lawn. Whatever it is, it’s not sitting down and watching the sport that you could be playing right then.
Reruns aren’t going to be as popular as live sports.
2. Everyone wants to see every shot.
Jomez and other post production companies have it down to an art. We get to see every shot, even tap-ins. So when disc golf takes about 40 minutes for 9 holes, we’re talking about 2 hours of programming. You need to feature commercials too!
That’s something we don’t have a lot of in disc golf. When I put on a F9 or B9 I know that I might have to hit the YouTube skip button once, but that’s about it.
Showing live disc golf on television is going to take hours. And the best course in the world (Maple Hill) has a dead zone where you can’t see anything because the coverage is so bad.
3. It’s tough to film disc golf.
Unlike ball golf, you lose the disc in the woods. Ball golfers hit the ball down the middle all the time. You’ll see them at varying distances down the fairway, but we all know where they should be. I’m routinely impressed with the Disc Golf Network camerapeople’s work. I’m going to be a lifelong subscriber. But I work in the disc golf industry and am a passionate fan. I don’t mind when they lose sight of a shot, but some folks complain online.
4. Advertising is really easy in fixed field sports.
They can put an ad on the cornhole board for a lot of money. You’ll see that board over and over and see a logo over and over. It could be worth tens of thousands of dollars to a company to have their logo there. In disc golf once you’re done with a hole you’re done with that hole (except if there could be playoffs). Advertising really drives what they put on tv.
Remember while disc golf has been around since 1978. I think it really took off with the introduction of YouTube showing round recaps. We’re less than 10 years removed from these kind of hole intros from Jomez.
I don’t know how long it will take disc golf to regularly get on television. Whether it would be majors only like the Champions Cup, Worlds, UDSGC, and DGPT Championship or the entire DGPT. It’s going to take a lot of disc golfers proving that it’s worth it to advertisers to get on tv. Until then we’re going to stick with how we’ve been watching for the last few years. Live on the Disc Golf Network, and post produced on YouTube.
So the next time they show Underwater Hockey, World Chase Tag, Jelle’s Marble Racing (Go Raspberry Racers), or Dodge Juggling on ESPN, just remember that those sports deserve their airtime too. People who are passionate about their sports deserve a chance to get their shot as well. Disc golf already had a little shot in 2020 and 2021. As the Disc Golf Pro Tour continues to grow (like in Europe), and we get 3 players with million dollar contracts (Paul, Ricky, and Simon), we’ll continue the growth that started in 1978.
May your discs miss all the trees,
Andrew Streeter #70397