Over the weekend, I texted my grandmother the following:
“There’s some live golf on at 2 on NBC.”
She quickly responded with her excitement to finally watch something other than a replay for the first time since March.
All of this is just a microcosm of what sports mean — and how they are missed — to our society.
Grandma and I had been waiting — and by the network ratings — so too had much of the country. Sports are a shared experience, something our world hasn’t had a lot of recently.
The first live sports events on network TV in more than two months delivered March 16, with Fox’s telecast of NASCAR’s The Real Heroes 400 from Darlington drawing 6.32 million viewers.
NBC’s PGA Tour charity skins game, The TaylorMade Driving Relief, attracted 2.35 million viewers.
Fox reports a 38 percent viewership jump over the previous race March 8 before the series, and the world, was brought to a halt in mid-March due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Both live were staged with no fans in attendance, limited television crew, and strict social distancing guidelines and protocols in place.
Each had network production crews connected and working from across the country. Mike Tirico was in his home in Michigan. Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon, socially distanced, from a studio in Charlotte.
Granted, ESPN has aired UFC events in recent weeks, and Professional Bull Riders returned in late April with an event on CBS Sports Network.
But, Sunday was the first Sunday in a long, long — looonnnggg — time that kind of felt like a Sunday I remember.
The casual viewer, or maybe even the avid viewer, doesn’t know the amount of planning, staging, and preproduction which happened to make those events possible.
In an industry, where your front-bench production crew usually sits shoulder-to-shoulder, and everyone on the crew is within shouting distance, how sports producers and networks are adapting is remarkable. The show must go on.
Throughout Sunday, I was flipping between both broadcasts.
Darius Rucker performed the National Anthem before the race, virtually. Audio was eerily strange with no fans in attendance. Early communication and rhythm issues with announcers.
But under these circumstances, who cares?
My friend, and Sports Video Group editorial director Ken Kerschbaumer wrote in this SVG blog:
I have always marveled at the ability of sports-TV production and engineering professionals to create a plan, document it, and then execute it at a high level. On top of that, they are able to turn that plan on a dime and move in a different direction. What happened this past weekend was the result of those skills, sharpened over years, if not decades, of professional experience.– Ken Kerschbaumer, Sports Video Group
The images from both events Sunday felt surreal, yet real, yet weird, yet awesome. Regardless, much needed.
On the 19th hole, closet-to-the hole, winner takes all at Seminole Golf Club, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy delivered.
But, there were no high fives or hugs.
McIlroy, with the last shot of the day, landed within 13 feet from the cup for a victory worth a hefty $1.85 million for the American Nurses Foundation. The event raised more than $5 million for COIVD19 relief.
Even after the moment, NBC course reporter Steve Sands — on the air — reminded McIlroy, and his teammate Dustin Johnson, to remain six-feet apart for the post-match interview.
About an hour later, Kevin Harvick won his 50th NASCAR event as he crossed the finish line in Darlington. Fox cut to his pit crew for their celebration. Wait, just hands raised in the air.
No high fives or hugs.
Sure, throughout the day there were shaky shots and plenty of awkward moments, but this past weekend gives me hope.
After the NBC broadcast, I texted grandma this reminder:
“Fun to see. Next Sunday we have Tiger and Phil”.
There’s still a lot of uncertainty, but we’re closer than we were in March.
And who doesn’t like to watch Tiger on a Sunday?