SBJ/April 30 - May 6, 2007/This Weeks News

Ad buyers happy with tour’s debut on Golf Channel

Despite a drop-off in the overall number of viewers that are watching the PGA Tour’s early-round coverage this season, a sampling of top ad buyers are calling the first three months of the tour’s 15-year Golf Channel deal a qualified success.

ESPN and USA Network, last year’s partners, had more viewers watching these tournaments. But advertisers are content because Golf Channel is delivering the ratings numbers and demographic reach that it promised four months ago, thanks in large part to the prime-time re-airings of a tournament’s early rounds that are delivering ratings similar to the live airings in key demographics.

Accenture Match Play viewership was up for
two early days of coverage using Golf Channel’s
combined numbers, but some rivals and advertisers
have criticized the combined ratings.

SportsBusiness Journal spoke to several major sports buyers who represent clients that buy advertising around golf broadcasts. Each refused to speak on the record because they do business with Golf Channel and other networks.

“This is the first time that the network is delivering the ratings that they promised us,” said one ad buyer who has placed several orders with Golf Channel. “This PGA Tour deal has allowed it to act like a legitimate network.”

When the deal was signed in January 2006, there was skepticism that the PGA Tour’s early-round telecasts would draw a similar percentage of viewers to Golf Channel, which is in slightly less than 75 million homes, while ESPN and USA are in more than 92 million homes.

But the initial reaction from this sample of the sports advertising community lends some support to the network’s controversial strategy of combining its live and replay ratings into one rating number that it uses to sell the tour coverage and in press releases.

Over the past few months, some advertisers and rival networks have criticized Golf Channel for pushing its combined ratings, rather than breaking out the live and replayed coverage into separate numbers.

Golf Channel defends its strategy, saying that 92 percent of its viewership is unduplicated from its afternoon and prime-time coverage.

“This is the way we have chosen to do this,” said Tom Knapp, the network’s vice president of strategic partnerships. “The fact that nobody’s done this in the past doesn’t make it wrong.”

By combining the ratings, Golf Channel reported more viewers watched the Accenture Match Play championship on two days in late February than those that watched the tournament on ESPN last year, a mark PGA Tour officials hailed as evidence that its Golf Channel deal was working.

Golf Channel’s two telecasts outdrew ESPN’s one on Wednesday by 33,000 homes and Friday by 119,000 homes.

ESPN and ABC delivered more homes on Thursday and over the weekend.

“We knew that [topping last year’s numbers] would happen eventually,” said Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president of international affairs. “We didn’t expect it so soon.”

All told, however, Golf Channel’s tournament coverage is not providing as many viewers as last year’s early-round action on ESPN and USA — even when the network combines its coverage. And while Golf Channel guarantees most of its advertisers on total households, it has been trumpeting the demographics that it has been able to reach so far.

In fact, Golf Channel’s sales force has fanned out across Madison Avenue over the past two weeks to talk about those demos, particularly the affluent 25- to 54-year-olds, where the network feels it’s trending well.

So far this season, the network states that the prime-time replay has delivered 45 percent of  Golf Channel’s total viewership of upscale adults 25-54, Knapp said. In 10 of its first 12 events, Golf Channel delivered more upscale adults than ESPN and USA did last year, when its combined live and re-aired coverage is considered. But Golf Channel’s live coverage consistently falls behind last year’s numbers in every demographic.

Some advertisers aren’t wowed by Golf Channel’s demographic numbers, saying that the sport always attracts an upscale audience. “The upscale numbers are very good,” one advertiser said. “But that’s typical of golf. That’s not a huge surprise.”

Other advertisers had different gripes, complaining that the network’s “cluttered environment” is not as clean as last year’s early-round telecasts. The feeling that Golf Channel’s coverage offers too many on-air sponsorships during the telecast is a reason one buyer is shying away from placing orders on the network.

And while some advertisers are satisfied with Golf Channel’s first three months of the deal, most miss the reach that ESPN and USA provided. They say that the PGA Tour passed up ratings for longer-term prospects.

“In the short term, the PGA Tour reduced their potential audience and concentrated more on their core,” said one ad buyer. “This deal allows the PGA Tour potential to control their programming further down the road.”

But Votaw defends the short-term prospects of the move. “We’re doing for the Golf Channel what they paid us to do,” Votaw said. “And that’s to bring more eyeballs to their network. This portends very well for the long term.”


THE SCOREBOARD: EARLY SEASON PGA TOUR RATINGS
The following includes a sampling of PGA Tour events so far this season that have aired on Golf Channel. The numbers include the live broadcasts and the re-airs in the evening. They are compared to the live broadcasts from last year.

Buick Invitational
  2007: Golf Channel 2006: ESPN
 
Avg. rating
No. of households
Avg.rating
No. of households
Thursday (Jan. 25) Live
0.4
323,000
0.7
650,000
Re-air
0.3
222,000
Friday (Jan. 26) Live
0.9
637,000
1.1
947,000
Re-air
0.2
185,000
 
Accenture Match Play
  2007: Golf Channel 2006: ESPN
 
Avg. rating
No. of households
Avg.rating
No. of households
Wednesday (Feb. 21) Live
0.6
420,000
0.8
692,000
Re-air
0.4
305,000
Thursday (Feb. 22) Live
0.8
605,000
1.0
942,000
Re-air
0.4
322,000
Friday (Feb. 23) Live
1.3
933,000
1.3
1,149,000
Re-air
0.4
335,000
       
Verizon Heritage
  2007: Golf Channel 2006: ESPN
 
Avg. rating
No. of households
Avg.rating
No. of households
Thursday (April 12) Live
0.4
278,000
0.5
466,000
Re-air
0.2
143,000
Friday (April 13) Live
0.4
278,000
0.9
831,000
Re-air
0.2
139,000
 
Ratings represent cable coverage area ratings.
Sources: Networks, SBJ archives

 

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