In Downtown Hartford, A Golf Lifestyle Network Is Born
By ANNE M. HAMILTON
March 22, 2012
James Bosworth is out to show that televised golf can be so much more than a droning account of rich men smacking small balls across a huge lawn.
"We are changing the style of golf," said the founder and CEO of back9network, a new multimedia "golf lifestyle" network. "We wanted a non-traditional program that was more fun. Tournament coverage really just puts people to sleep."
Bosworth, known as Jamie, is launching a "niche" cable network, based in downtown Hartford, with hipper, edgier shows aimed at younger viewers. "We want everyone to enjoy it. For too long, [golf] has had the reputation as being exclusionary," he said.
He has already produced some proposed pilot programs — from travel pieces about fancy golf resorts, to golf fashions, and "Hole Lotta Love," a reality dating show, in which a golfer goes around a course with three beauties and ends up on the last hole with just one.
"The choice is on golf and personality," he said. "It's so utterly cheesy and fun."
Bosworth, who has been a teaching pro and marketing executive for golfers and equipment firms, has already raised $5.3 million toward the network launch, with some celebrity investors and advisers — Clint Eastwood, Geno Auriemma and Ray Allen among them. He said he's aiming for $40 million.
A live blog is already available — and it's clear that sexy women will be a huge part of the strategy. He expects to launch the web site later this month and the cable shows in late fall.
Bosworth, 39, met Eastwood while he was working as a golf pro at Pebble Beach Golf Links. He won't say how much the actor and director has invested, but he said he played golf in Hawaii with Eastwood over the holidays, and made Eastwood chairman of the creative committee, helping choose the on-air talent.
To help with the technical side of video production, Bosworth hired Carlos Silva, a sports broadcasting veteran. Javier Colon, a West Hartford resident and winner of NBC"s "The Voice," will be a writer. Bosworth's wife, Jenn, until recently a reporter and anchor on Fox CT (sister company of The Courant); is an on-air anchor.
Bosworth expects to hire another 65 to 70 employees by the fall. "We think we can be a huge contributor to the Hartford economy," he said.
Geno Auriemma is an investor and acting University of Connecticut athletic director Paul Pendergast and Celtics player and former UConn star Ray Allen are on his board of directors.
"I thought it was such a great idea," said Allen, an excellent golfer who bought some shares. "The Network will give people the opportunity to see golf from the everyday vantage point. It's for people who love golf. … I think it's going to be a great success. Jamie is one of those guys - he is a competitive golfer and he has so much passion for what he does. It seemed like a perfect fit."
The firm, now on Lewis Street, is negotiating for larger space where shows can be edited and produced. "We want to encourage people to have fun," said Bosworth. "No one has seen anything new in golf [television] in 15 years."
Bosworth 's strategy is not to show tournaments, but pre- and post-tournament coverage, as well as on-air personalities including a humorist who, Bosworth claims, rivals Jon Stewart, and an Andy Rooney-like grouch. Shows include "Lucky Me," in which blue collar comedian Jackie Flynn gets to play exclusive golf courses he can't afford, and "Crazy Hole," in which two golfers tee off from unlikely places, like a roof top or the middle of a desert.
Bosworth, who grew up playing golf in West Orange, N.J., won a golf scholarship to Seton Hall University. He started as a golf pro at Pebble Beach, then worked as a sales representative and later sales manager for Odyssey Golf, an equipment maker. There, his largest coup was the result of a cold call to American Express. Using the number on the back of his credit card, he eventually spoke with the person who handled rewards programs, and sold him on the idea of adding Odyssey's putters.
After Callaway Golf bought Odyssey, Bosworth worked his way up to head sales and marketing for two of the company's brands.
Later, he was a partner in Blake and Bosworth Sports Marketing, representing professional athletes as well as large companies trying to decide how to spend their sports marketing dollars. He said that putting together all the pieces of the network has left him little time to be on the links, where he has a handicap of one.
Still to be negotiated are agreements with satellite or cable distributors that would carry the network. Bosworth is trying to interest companies like Dish, Comcast, Direct TV or Time-Warner. Eventually, he expects a major media outlet to buy him out. "We'd be very advantageous for a potential suitor," he said.
Bosworth said women and minorities have been sidelined in golf for too long. "I'm against any form of discrimination – the non-rich, women, people who may have felt unenfranchised," he said. "Golf is a sport and a social activity you can enjoy your whole life."
Sandy Cloud, a former Hartford state senator, Aetna executive and president of the National Conference for Community and Justice, who is now a real estate developer, is a shareholder, helping Bosworth raise money. "It's an opportunity for Hartford and our state to have a new media vehicle," he said. "It will be very exciting for economic development in Hartford."
Cloud, an African-American who grew up playing golf in Keney Park and caddying at Tumblebrook Country Club, said the network will expose a wider array of people to the world of golf.
"A lot of people thought golf was available only to a part of the population," he said. "Golf exposed me to a whole different world. It changed my life."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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