How do disc golf fans consume the sport, and who are their favorite commentators?
December 22, 2023 by Jesse Weisz in News with 0 comments
This article is part of a series that will be released throughout the offseason based on the 2023 Ultiworld Disc Golf / StatMando Fandom Survey. If you wish to learn more about the survey and the demographics of the survey respondents, please read this accompanying article.
The disc golf media landscape has completely changed over the past decade. Ten years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find coverage of even the most important events in the sport. Now we can watch post-produced coverage from events worldwide on YouTube and high-quality live coverage of events in the US and Europe. This article will focus on the data we gathered on the media, as well as ancillary questions about how closely individuals follow the sport and opinions on central institutions.
If you are an on-air talent in disc golf, your work has certainly been criticized online. Are these just the loudest voices or is there a wider sentiment that some commentators are better than others? We attempted to answer that question using numbers instead of vitriol to get a pulse of how the disc golf community feels about the work of the people in the booth.
The chart below shows which commentators the Disc Golf Network (DGN) used in 2023 on their live broadcasts:
- As is standard in many sports, DGN assigns one commentator to handle “Play-by-Play” (PxP), essentially narrating what is happening at the event. They also assign one or two additional commentators to provide “Color Commentary.” The color commentator provides expert analysis, background information, and occasionally anecdotes or light humor. Like most sports, disc golf uses current or former professional athletes for color commentary.
- Terry Miller and Ian Anderson were the main PxP commentators for DGN this year, with 18 appearances each. DGN typically assigns a commentator to cover both the MPO and FPO rounds at an event. Ultiworld owner and editor Charlie Eisenhood did PxP for fewer events overall but handled all the FPO Majors (including quasi-Major Throw Pink) other than the US Women’s Championship. PDGA’s Brand Manager, Grant Zellner, was assigned to a few Silver Events as well.
- Brian Earhart was DGN’s Swiss army knife, versatile enough to be assigned PxP at some events and Color at others. His work in the booth was primarily at Silver Events. He also worked as an on-course reporter, ran press conferences, and often co-hosted Tournament Central, DGN’s pre-event show.
- Zoe AnDyke had the most appearances as color commentator for the FPO division (16). Valerie Jenkins and Juliana Korver also provided color commentary for FPO.
- Philo Brathwaite and Nate Doss were the primary color commentators for MPO, with occasional appearances from Nate Perkins and Nate Sexton. We did not include any commentators who were only in the booth for one event, such as Ken Climo at USDGC.
- Sexton is also an MPO commentator for JomezPro, along with Jeremy Koling and Paul Ulibarri. Madison Walker and Erika Stinchcomb commentate for FPO.
We asked survey participants how they felt about the commentating work of 16 DGN/JomezPro commentators on a 10-point scale, where a score of 0 was considered a maximum “dislike” and 10 was considered a maximum “like.” Respondents were instructed to ignore how they felt about the commentator as a person.
On the chart below, we have both raw Commentator Average Fandom Scores and “No-5” Commentator Average Fandom Scores. The raw scores are the average of the scores given by the 3,040 survey respondents. We found that commentators who primarily commentated for the FPO division received a greater percentage of 5s than MPO broadcasters. We believe this is because a percentage of the respondents do not follow FPO closely (more on that below), and instead of skipping this question as instructed, they gave the FPO commentators a neutral score of 5. These 5s put FPO commentators at a disadvantage when trying to judge overall fan sentiment of the quality of their work. To put the commentators on more equal footing, the “No-5” Commentator Average Fandom Scores exclude all scores of 5 from each commentator’s average.
- For brevity’s sake, we limited the commentators to just the broadcast teams of DGN and JomezPro, the two most watched media channels in the sport (JomezPro was acquired by DGN at the start of 2023, before this survey was taken).
- Sexton’s commentating received the highest Fandom Score. Sexton is the only commentator who is regularly in the booth for both DGN and JomezPro. When playing in an event, he can’t be in the booth for DGN but can provide commentary for the post-produced coverage produced by JomezPro, which explains why despite being the most liked by fans, Sexton covered the least events of any “regular” DGN commentator.
- The five JomezPro commentators (Sexton, Koling, Ulibarri, Walker, and Stinchcomb) all ended up near the top of the “No-5” Commentator Average Fandom Scores. Why is this the case? Factors that contribute to this likely include:
- All the JomezPro broadcasters are active touring professionals. A player can’t commentate on live coverage if they’re playing, so all the DGN commentators (other than Sexton) are either retired players or were never professionals. Perhaps respondents are scoring JomezPro commentators higher because they also see them play disc golf, which engenders respect and connection.
- About a third of the respondents identified that they are not DGN subscribers (more on that below). JomezPro is free, so the scores of DGN commentators might suffer from a lack of exposure to a third of the respondents.
- Post-produced commentating is very different from live. Generally, post-produced commentators cover a single card, whereas during live broadcasts, commentators must call several cards at once with the help of a production team and without the ability to edit mistakes. There is often a steadier beat to the commentating during post-produced coverage, whereas live can be rapid at times, and at other times, slow to the point of just killing time (e.g., weather delays). Post-produced commentating is, in these ways, an easier lift.
- Of course, JomezPro may have done a better job attracting funny, charismatic commentators. Ultimately, they have more options as they can recruit active players while DGN cannot.
- Earhart managed to be the second most-liked commentator despite no longer being an active touring player and, for the most part, only commentating on DGN Silver events.
- Doss was the least-liked commentator, with an average score of 4.99, just a hair below a neutral 5. He had a roughly equal number of respondents who disliked him compared to those who liked him. Doss has been with DGN from the start, famously broadcasting in front of a bed sheet with his wife, Valerie Jenkins. Jenkins had the second-lowest Fandom Score for an FPO commentator.
- Although receiving the most commentating assignments of anyone covering FPO events, AnDyke had the lowest Fandom Score for FPO commentators.
- If you mouse over (or on mobile, touch) any of these bars, you can see the sample size of survey respondents for each commentator. There are a few hundred people who followed the instructions not to rate commentators they were unfamiliar with, which accounts for the difference in sample sizes between commentators.
- FPO commentators received a higher percentage of 5s than MPO commentators, which is why we are showing a “No-5” version of the average Fandom Score.
- Over 50% of respondents gave Sexton a 10. Earhart was second with nearly 30% of respondents giving him a 10.
- Over 50% of respondents gave Zellner a 5, likely signaling they are not familiar with him – fewer people watch Silver Events.
- Koling and Ulibarri had strikingly similar distributions.
- We included this same question in the 2022 survey, and our analysis remains the same: “This is what one would expect to see – a graph that captures the strong year-to-year growth starting around 2015 catalyzed by YouTube and the emergence of the professional tour, followed by explosive growth during the pandemic, and then a decline toward pre-pandemic levels.”
- The number of respondents who started following disc golf in 2023 is disturbingly small at first glance. However, the same pattern emerged last year and we suggested, “There is a good chance that the 2022 numbers are not representative of the relative following of professional disc golf as the survey was administered three-quarters of the way through the year, and many fans who found disc golf in 2022 may not yet follow the outlets we used to promote the survey, such as Ultiworld Disc Golf and StatMando.”
- Sure enough, we can see plenty of fans started following disc golf in 2022, and we expect to see a similar pattern next year.
- In last year’s survey we speculated that preference for live disc golf likely passed the preference for post-produced coverage either in 2021 or 2022. As was the case last year, 55% of respondents either outright prefer live coverage or lean toward live. However, there was a shift of participants from leaning live to outright preferring live.
- We included two new middle-ground answers this year: “I like both and don’t lean either way” and “Post for early rounds, live for last round.” 13% of respondents chose one of those options. The numbers declined for leaning post-produced and outright preferring post-produced.
- Overall, it seems fans are moving toward live coverage, but it isn’t a rush out the door. DGN recently announced they have left the much-derided Vimeo platform and will once again give viewers the option to pause and rewind live coverage. Fixing these glaring weaknesses with DGN could accelerate fans moving toward live coverage.
- As we wrote last year, “If we were to look beyond the sample size of our survey at the broader community of disc golf fans, would live still be preferred? Based on views, perhaps not. Our survey was more likely to be seen and filled out by the most ardent disc golf fans, who are also the same people likely willing to pay for a DGN subscription and make the time to watch live coverage.”
- Over half of our respondents subscribe to DGN year-round and another 14.4% subscribe for part of the year. I suspect those numbers are a bit muddled as someone who subscribes for nine months and pauses during the off-season might give either answer, but either way, it means about two-thirds of respondents are DGN subscribers.
- The remaining third of respondents do not subscribe to DGN and either consume DGN content when freely available on YouTube, or not at all.
- The DGPT and the PDGA are the two organizations that control professional disc golf through the Elite series and Major series, respectively. Based on the results of our survey, for the second year in a row, the DGPT is the more popular organization. On average, respondents rated the DGPT an 8.00 and the PDGA a 6.40 on our 0 to 10 favorability scale.
- Both the DGPT and PDGA substantially increased in popularity this year; respondents giving the DGPT a score of 10 increased from 14% to 23%, and for the PDGA the increase was from 3% to 7%.
- Last year we wrote: “It would be interesting to see how the respondents’ opinions of these organizations will have changed after the polarizing decision earlier this month to effectively ban transgender women from the FPO division. However, our survey collecting period took place months before the PDGA/DGPT decision was announced.”
- This year we started collecting survey responses on August 17, about three weeks after the United Tour was announced (July 25). If this poll was taken earlier when the issue of whether transgender athletes could play in the FPO division was in the news, I suspect these scores would have been lower. By the time our survey came out, the DGPT had reached a temporary détente with Natalie Ryan.
- As was the case last year, this year’s respondents followed MPO more closely than FPO; 81.3% of respondents indicated they follow MPO disc golf very closely, giving scores of 8-10, while only 46.1% of the respondents indicated they follow FPO very closely.
- For reference, in 2022, 83.9% of respondents followed MPO very closely and 43.2% followed FPO very closely. This suggests there was a slight decrease in how closely our respondents follow MPO and a slight increase in how closely they follow FPO.
- If you want a breakdown of how male respondents compare to female respondents on this question and more, please read our 2022 article: How Gender Affects Who We Root For
- 49.2% of respondents indicated they are following disc golf more closely in 2023 compared to 2022 while 33.7% of respondents are following disc golf roughly the same as they did in 2022.
- 17.1% of respondents are following disc golf less closely.
- This question is certainly skewed because the less you follow disc golf, the less likely you are to know about the survey and fill it out. This will, however, be a good data point for the long-term study of fandom.
Thank you for reading this lengthy piece. My thanks to Karl Lamothe and Josiah Zoodsma for their assistance in editing this piece as well as the rest of the StatMando team with data analysis and preparation. Once again, if you wish to be notified when next year’s survey is ready or want to be emailed when survey results are released, please enter your email address here. If you are interested in being involved in the survey and have experience in polling or a profession related to studying surveys, please get in touch with us at [email protected].
Please see the full series of 2023 articles by following these links:
- The Survey Itself & Who Took It
- Which Pros Do We Root For and Against
- How Fans Feel about Disc Manufacturers
- Fan Relation to Discs
- How Fans Feel about Media and Commentators
- How Fans Feel about Courses
- Mailbag Questions & Final Thoughts
Links for the 2022 Fandom Series articles can be found here.