Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, and Sungjae Im, of South Korea, set up to make their putts on the 18th green during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament, Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

PGA Tour media deal aimed at more video for bigger audience

March 09, 2020 - 9:10 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The PGA Tour announced an expansive media rights deal Monday that brings ESPN back into the fold with its streaming service, joining two networks as part of a package designed to deliver more video content and reach a broader audience.

Terms were not disclosed. Sports Business Journal, which first reported in December that CBS and NBC had agreed to a new deal, put the rights fee at around $700 million. That was before digital rights were awarded to ESPN+, which The Associated Press first reported in late January.

Two people involved in player meetings estimated the combined rights at more than $7 billion over nine years. They spoke on condition of anonymity because terms are private.

For regular television, the nine-year deal that begins in 2022 looks the same.

Network coverage stays with CBS and NBC, with CBS getting roughly twice as many events, just like the current nine-year deal that ends next year. Golf Channel stays on as the cable partner providing weekday and early weekend coverage, along with fall events and a few tournaments at the start of the year.

The change is in digital, the first time the tour negotiated such rights. ESPN+ won the rights to "PGA Tour Live," the popular subscription video service the tour began five years ago. It will have four live content channels, including the featured pairings that shows the entire round of star players.

The deal comes about 18 months after the PGA Tour signed a 12-year agreement with Discovery for direct-to-consumer content in international markets. With the domestic deal Monday, the tour now has partnerships with Comcast (NBC and Golf Channel), Viacomm (CBS), Disney (ESPN+) and Discovery (GolfTV).

"As we went to the marketplace and looked at all the options and all the potential outcomes and thought about what it was we wanted for our fans and our athletes ... our desire was to produce more content, to evolve and innovate in all our broadcasts, to work more closely with partners, to build the tour and our sport and to reach a broader audience," PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said. "We're in a good position."

One change for the networks was alternating the FedEx Cup playoffs, three events with some of the strongest fields in golf as players chase a $15 million bonus. Previously, CBS had the first event and NBC had the last two, concluding with the Tour Championship. Starting in 2022, each network will get all three events in alternating years, with NBC getting five of those years and CBS the other four, not always in order.

CBS Sports has been a mainstay for the PGA Tour, broadcasting its first event in 1951 and televising the tour consecutively for 63 years (its Masters coverage dates to 1956). Chairman Sean McManus described the rights increase as "significant," but that it was a "very fair deal for CBS and the PGA Tour."

"Our goal was to maintain our position in golf," McManus said. "From the time we finish March Madness to the time we come on the air with college football and the NFL, it's the most prestigious programming we have. We were committed to protect our position."

Comcast maintains its position by showing the most PGA Tour product, primarily through Golf Channel. NBC has the Florida swing and two World Golf Championships as part of the road to the Masters. Golf Channel also has the LPGA Tour in a separate rights deal, PGA Tour Champions and the developmental Korn Ferry Tour.

"We'll continue to do what we do best, to bring golf to the viewer, to continue to push the envelope, exploring new areas in partnership with the tour," said Pete Bevacqua, president of NBC Sports Group.

Most intriguing in the new media contract is ESPN+, which used to televise PGA Tour events through 2006. ESPN has weekday coverage of the Masters and PGA Championship, and it had the British Open until NBC won those rights starting in 2016.

Now it's back on a regular basis with its powerful streaming service, which has 7.6 million subscribers.

"Most interesting to us is this is not just a commitment to be on ESPN+," Monahan said. "ESPN is committed to the tour, the tournaments and the athletes. Think about the tour being promoted on ESPN and their digital families, which is north of 50 million unique viewers from what we have today."

That's one element golf was missing. Golf fans typically watch Golf Channel. Sports fans watch ESPN. The hope is that through promotional efforts across ESPN's platforms, more eyeballs will make their way to golf.

"We feel confident our platforms reach a broad range of sports fans on a regular basis," said Russell Wolff, executive vice president and general manager of ESPN+. "We're quite excited about the expanded golf offering. ... It's a place golf fans are going to want to spend time."

The tour will continue to produce "PGA Tour Live."

As part of the contract, the PGA Tour takes over the television compound at tournaments instead of it being the responsibility of the host network for the week. The host network still calls the shots in producing live golf. The arrangement allows for the tour to better aggregate and distribute content for all its platforms.

The objective is more content. That starts this week at The Players Championship, where fans will have access to watch every player and every shot over four days, a first-of-its-kind production for golf.

"Right now, if we have 30,000 shots hit a week, we're only capturing 30% of those shots," said Rick Anderson, the tour's executive vice president of global media. "If you're capturing 100% you have so much more content. That's what people will feel. Linear television might be the same. But there's a ton more opportunity for the artists (network producers) to make great shows."

The PGA Tour negotiated on behalf of the LPGA Tour and secured a nine-year deal that keeps it as the anchor programming of Golf Channel, along with expanded exposure for at least seven tournaments each year on the two networks. Those events have not been determined. The LPGA, the most international of all tours, maintains control of all its media rights outside the U.S. and gets expanded digital content rights.

"The last 10 years haven't been the easiest," LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said. “We've had to prove ourselves on the Golf Channel, and I'm glad they're willing to invest in a bigger way.”

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