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The Five Spot: Mike McCarley

Golf channel has a big year teed up. President Mike McCarley says that thanks to investment by parent Comcast, about 40% of the network’s programming will be live, including, for the first time, tournament coverage in July of the Open Championship—the British Open, to us duffers—some of which will air on NBC. Golf is returning to the Olympics after a 118-year absence, so the network will play a big role in NBC’s coverage in Rio as well.

McCarley became president of Golf Channel in 2011 after working for NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol as senior VP, communications, marketing and promotions. Once McCarley’s shoulder heals up from surgery and he’s able to swing a club, everything will be way below par again—which is good if you’re keeping score in golf.

McCarley spoke with B&C business editor Jon Lafayette earlier this month from Augusta, Ga., where he was overseeing Golf’s 85 hours of news coverage and analysis from the Masters. An edited transcript follows.

What’s the plan for the Open Championship?

Right now on the schedule, you’re looking at more than 100 hours of live programming, which is all additive to our current slate. And we’re following that up a couple of weeks later with two weeks of live programming from the Olympics. That’s going to be a terrific run.

How big a deal is the Olympics?

Placing a sport like golf into the Olympics is incredibly meaningful because it helps elevate golf all around the world. All four of the governing bodies who have majors in golf—the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship—announced that the winner of the Olympics, the gold medal champion, will get an automatic invitation to all four of the following year’s majors. And obviously from a media perspective we know how significant the Olympics are in the world of entertainment, where you dominate pop culture, dominate conversation around the world for 17 straight days.

NBC signed announcer David Feherty full-time. Has that paid off?

It’s been absolutely terrific. Having David on NBC as one of the staples of our tournament coverage gives us the ability to promote his show on Golf Channel in a way that we never have before. And that’s evident in the ratings. That show is beating a lot of live sports on other cable networks in primetime.

Where does Tiger fit into this?

In 2015 we matched our highest-rated year in the 21-year history of Golf Channel, and that was without Tiger Woods playing. In 2016 we are pacing for it to be the most-watched year in the history of the channel and that’s assuming Tiger doesn’t play at all. Young stars, the big four in particular—Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day—are cutting through. It’s not one guy, it’s four guys, and generally every week we have at least one, sometimes all four, as the stars of our programming.

You say Golf is more than a TV channel. Why?

You watch a baseball game on any network, you aren’t going to try to hit a 90 mile-an-hour fastball, but our viewers are invested in this lifestyle. We will book through our Golf Now business 16 million rounds of golf this year, and we’re interacting and transacting with millions of golfers on a regular basis. Our Golf Channel Academy has 75 locations across America with 240 different coaches who are giving lessons to our viewers. And we have 800 Golf Channel amateur events around the country where our viewers are playing in our tournaments. So there’s a different, deeper connection with our viewers. They can live and breathe the channel when they’re away from television.