One of the difficulties with hockey is the relative obscurity of the players. They are almost nonpeople when they take their uniforms off. On the other hand, one of the reasons golfers have become such super superstars is that they don't have a uniform to take off. Hockey is probably the most exciting untapped sport—all body contact, speed, the lone goalie standing up against the onslaught. It also has a certain grandness. A player who has committed a penalty has to sit in a box in full view. It's personal, you can identify with him. Football is the only major sport where the players commit fouls anonymously. Why?
The rules of hockey are easily understood, so women like it. You are close to the players, and since they don't wear helmets you can see what they look like. It would be a perfect sport if there were one less man on each team. When you've got six players to get through, it's too damned hard to score, it's too cluttered. The plays so seldom work, there is constant frustration.
One of the problems associated with putting hockey on national television is the structure of the game. There are no time-outs or breaks to get the commercials in, and you have the two 10-minute intermissions between periods when you basically have to fill time. Hockey would best lend itself to a combination of tape and live, but when you put something on tape you lose a lot of its appeal.
Another thing is that the coverage of hockey has not been as good as it ought to be. Perhaps color will help. The puck would be easier to see, and there is something about the color of the uniforms against all that white ice. (A football, however, is harder to see in color than in black and white. I'd love to change the color of the football, but I can already hear the screams.) But the major difficulty is that hockey is so fast and the puck is so small. In automobile racing and in skiing, where you're trying to show the reality of speed, you make illusions to create reality. You can't shoot a car or a skier coming at you or going away. If you shoot a car coming at you, it looks like it's parked. That's why we shoot from a helicopter hovering directly overhead; this way, the viewer gets the feeling of the landscape going by. What we ought to be doing with hockey is slowing it down by shooting it from behind the goals.
Golf is a great game for television. First of all, it is impossible to see a tournament as well in person as on the screen and, secondly, we have taken a sport which isn't basically a head-to-head encounter, which isn't even essentially a spectator sport, and have made it so by cutting back and forth between various holes and players, so that, in effect, you've often got the three leaders in the same threesome. We've also changed the pace of the game itself to make it more exciting. For instance, you normally don't have to watch the guys walking. We've been able to take out all the lulls in golf. We know that if Nicklaus is standing over the ball we can put on a minute-and-a-half commercial, or we can cut to Chi Chi Rodriguez and then back to Nicklaus again without blowing it. You can blow golf by not knowing the sport or the players, and live television is like writing on water.
More than in any other sport, golf's heroes have been built by television. Because of the tight closeups, you can see what they look like and watch them register every emotion. By shooting football tight you can get some great pictures. It's very artistic to see the vapor coming out of Bart Starr's mouth on a cold day in Green Bay, but a lot of people want to see the defenses. Arnold Palmer is probably no more animated than Gale Sayers, but you can barely see what Sayers looks like, even in a closeup, because of his helmet and nose guard. In fact, a pro football player has to be a superstar before people are able to recognize him without a number on his back.
As a traditionalist, I wish the PGA Championship were still match play, the Open were 36 holes on Saturday and there were no asterisks in baseball. As a sports fan, I agree that a playoff in golf was not meant to start on the 15th hole, as usually happens on television, but if you look at the real essence of the sport, when you go to sudden-death and make a game of golf hinge on who's best on only one hole you're already compromising the nature of the game, so what difference does it make if it's the first or the 15th?
Although golf has adjusted starting times for television and changed the format of one or two tournaments, its image has not been impaired, its reputation is greater than ever and attendance at the tournaments is way up. Actually, the worst effect of television on golf is that it has slowed play enormously, because the viewers are emulating the pros. If Jack Nicklaus spends 10 minutes over a ball, at least when he does hit it he'll hit the green, but a kid who takes just as much time as his hero will slice it in the woods and probably lose it.
Golf is slowly but inevitably building a bigger audience, but, unlike football, it doesn't have violence or ease of understanding and remains a relatively low-rated sport. The AAU swimming championships have outdrawn the Masters.
However, advertisers like golf because it appeals to a higher type than those who watch the Roller Derby or wrestling, and this kind of viewer will buy certain products, like computers. We are all influenced by our likes and dislikes, and we put things on and then rationalize. I'm ashamed to say it, but if we put on the Demolition Derby for 13 weeks the ratings would go through the roof.