Q&A With Golf Channel’s Regina O’Brien
Golf Channel continues to evolve under NBCU. This past April was its most-watched ever, and the network’s original programming and live tour coverage continues to expand. It also recently revamped its logo to more prominently feature the NBC peacock and reflect the channel’s growing global news presence. Here’s Regina O’Brien, svp of brand marketing, on the network’s new look, its strategy for targeting millennial golfers and how it’s leveraged NBCU’s marketing muscle.
Why the new logo now?
This is the culmination of how we’ve been—over the past several years—bringing NBC and Golf Channel together. We rebranded the NBC network Golf to Golf Channel on NBC to really start to expose Golf Channel to the NBC viewer. We had a temporary logo where we took the peacock and joined it with our logo. One of the things we looked at in the golf space was that no one was really owning the word golf. And we thought there was a big opportunity there… especially as we look at things like golf in the Olympics—what we hope is that the Olympics will really inject golf to a lot of countries that currently don’t have that as a mainstay sport. We looked at how the word is used and said across the world. In almost every country G-O-L-F is recognized for golf. So we set out with that in mind—how do we make sure that we’re connecting to NBC Sports and how do we capitalize on that little fact.
The second part was brand extensions. So we have things like Golf Channel Amateur Tour and Golf Central and Gold Channel Academy. It’s part of our core brand and we wanted to make sure that we were using that visual repetition to continue to help build the channel.
Any challenges to rebranding a logo?
We started it 18 months ago and we did a lot of the work in house, because there’s so much physical signage—on the golf courses, across different partners, across all those different brands that I mentioned. We used an in-house creative team to make sure that every single place where you saw it visually was switched over.
With the logo change behind you, what are the main areas of focus for Golf Channel marketing right now?
We’ve got a great rest of the season—the FedEx Cup as well as the Ryder Cup. Those are two big tentpole events that we’re really looking forward to. Another thing we focused on this year has been our originals. We launched “Arnie” this year, which was a three-part series, and “Payne.” And we’re really looking forward to our 20th anniversary on January 17th.
How important are your originals to the network?
It’s always a tentpole. We use if for a couple things. We do a lot of quality production in tournaments, but we also do a lot of quality storytelling. This is something we’ve really focused on, especially becoming part of NBC Sports. It is our opportunity to tell the deeper stories within golf. It does help us broaden the network and appeal to folks who may not have watched us on a regular basis. They may be interested in stories—not necessarily sports action week in and week out. It gives us another reason to help people engage—with a particular character in the sport or a particular part of it.
How was NBCU helped from a resources standpoint?
We work really closely with a lot of the key networks. For example, the Arnie premiere had record ratings. It trended on Twitter three nights in a row. And a lot of that was because we had so much support across 19 different NBCU channels. CNBC, MSNBC, even E! From a marketing perspective we created tailored messages specifically for different networks to appeal to different audiences. With someone like Arnold Palmer, there were a lot of connections from a business perspective. He helped start IMG. He had female appeal as well, with his popularity and his great looks. So we were able to tell a lot of parts of the different Arnie story and target those to specific audiences through the use of what we call Symphony—a marketing council, which is basically the heads of all of marketing in NBCU. We get together and talk about what our different priorities are and help each other promote those different priorities. When we were at Comcast we were part of a group of only five networks. Now we’re part of this much larger family and are able to take advantage of that engine. And it’s not just TV spots—it’s also things like billboards in Times Square and signage at parks. We get in front of a much broader audience and have access to promotion that wouldn’t have had.
Are you marketing more toward millennials these days? And is that a challenge, since Golf viewers tend to skew older?
We definitely target them with things like our Golf Live Extra product, where you can watch it anywhere, whether you’re in an office or on a golf course. We call them our digi-golfers, and they do tend to skew younger. We have a strategy against that group and it continues to evolve. We just did a pretty large research study where we segmented all of our audience, and we see a huge amount of growth across that digi-golfer segment. We know our streaming service is what we should be targeting and we work on messaging around that. The good thing is we’re able to reach a lot of that group also through a lot of our digital assets. We have four apps, which all rate really well. We have a focus on social media as well within the marketing department that’s probably grown two- or threefold in the past two years. And that’s all in order to get our news, our sport front and center—in front of that audience.
Where have you seen the most growth at the network?
We see the most growth with our tournament and news coverage. We try to super-serve the customer by being live whenever and wherever we can—which means extending our tournament hours. If there’s a playoff and there are multiple live tournaments going on at the same time making sure that if we have to tape something for television that we’re live on the digital platform. We’re not afraid of being live on digital if we can’t be live on TV. Where we have seen some great success is moving people from platform to platform and just keeping our consumers super-served with our news and tournaments by being as many hours live as possible.