Golf Channel Tees Up ‘Morning Drive’

Golf Channel will join the
ranks of live morning programmers when it
tees off a new two-hour weekday series on
Monday (Jan. 3).

The tee shot for Morning Drive, featuring
veteran sports broadcasters Erik Kuselias
(ESPN) and Gary Williams (Sirius XM Satellite
Radio) as co-hosts, starts at 7 a.m. and comes
two weeks before the network dips its toe into
3D waters with enhanced-format coverage
from select holes at the Sony Open in Hawaii
on Jan. 15-16.

The Comcast-owned network’s new entry is
part of an expanded programming lineup featuring
new and returning instructional shows
and original documentary series. Golf aims to
boost its ratings fortunes to and beyond the
numbers it recorded during its top year of 2009.

Tom Stathakes, Golf senior vice president
of programming, production and operations,
said: “By debuting a great morning show and
more instructional fare, new seasons of Big
and The Haney Project, and the documentary
series Pipe Dream, we want to show
we’re much more than just seven irons and
drivers. By stretching our legs, we will have by
far the best ratings year in our history in 2011.”

During 2010, Golf averaged 119,000 and
71,000 viewers in primetime and total day, respectively,
decreases of 10% and 18% from its
2009 averages.

Stathakes said Morning Drive was a longoverdue
show for Golf.

“It’s not a 24-hour cycle, but a 24-minute
news cycle. We were at a disadvantage not
being live,” Stathakes said of Morning Drive.
“We’ll start from the world of golf, but look at
other sports and entertainment.”

The show, with Golf Central updates, would
like to include commentary from the likes of
Jerry Rice or Tony Romo, players who brandish
a mean golf stick, weighing in on pro football.

“If the [Bowl Championship Series] is the
story of the day, that’s where we’ll be,” Stathakes
said. “If Morning Drive had premiered,
Mark Walhberg would have been on promoting
his movie The Fighter during its premiere.”

New and returning shows and the comeback
of ratings draw Tiger Woods notwithstanding,
Golf’s Nielsen fortunes could veer
off course if it loses carriage on DirecTV. At
press time, the parties were continuing to negotiate,
about monthly license-fee valuations
of some 25 cents and positioning. The latest
contract was to expire Dec. 31.