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Volume 20 No. 42
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PGA Championship to cash in on new date?

The PGA of America has marked the calendar for when it will move its premier PGA Championship from August to May, a strategy it hopes will deliver a richer television contract and additional sponsors.

The long-anticipated scheduling change was the talk of last week’s PGA Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte. It will begin in 2019, the final year of the organization’s 10-year media deals with CBS and Turner.

The PGA of America hired Evolution Media Capital to help assess the decision to move to May as it heads toward a new round of media deals.

Golf insiders surveyed in Charlotte largely praised the move as good for the PGA of America, for business and for golf.

Moving the event to a “more powerful date,” according to PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua, will be a major factor when negotiating the next media deal. Insiders agree.

Moving to May may mean more sponsors and a bigger TV deal.
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“[The PGA Championship] has always been slightly compromised,” said Steve Loy, president of golf for Lagardère Sports, of the traditional August date. He predicted that ratings will rise when the event moves to May.

While many believe being the second major behind the Masters instead of the fourth and final major of the golf season is an advantage, the new date also means more television competition in a crowded May sports calendar.

“The viewership levels are higher in May than in August, but particularly on Sunday there will also be a full lineup of NBA playoffs and NHL playoffs that currently does not exist for the PGA Championship,” said Kevin O’Malley, a former senior programming executive for CBS and for Turner.

But O’Malley also sees the benefit of the May date allowing the PGA Championship to be played in Southern markets where the weather is far more tolerable in the spring than in August.

“Overall, it will help because the PGA of America wants to go to more venues and to more parts of the country,” he said.

PGA of America executives believe the date change can lead to additional sponsors.

Currently, Mercedes and Omega are its two “patron partners,” paying at least seven figures annually to activate around the PGA Championship and other PGA of America events. The organization has about 20 other lower-level deals. Samsung did not renew its patron level deal after last year.

Last week at Quail Hollow, PGA of America executives hosted a number of prospective clients, and the particular categories that it is looking to fill are consumer electronics and insurance.

The organization’s expectation is that the move to May, when fan interest in golf is high, will drive more sponsorship interest. Kevin Ring, chief revenue officer for the PGA of America, said the event could support about five top-level partners, leaving plenty of room to add more patron-level deals.

“We think there is big upside in May where we fall in the golf calendar and where we fall in the buying cycle for our partners,” he said. “From a consumer standpoint, a big part of the country is starting to think about golf again and they are brushing off their clubs.”

Other golf insiders see the benefit of the PGA Championship’s new May date, along with the PGA Tour’s decision to move The Players Championship from May to March, as a way to create a more defined calendar, making it more attractive to fans and sponsors. Beginning in 2019, The Players will be played in March followed by a major each month beginning with the Masters in April, the PGA Championship in May, the U.S. Open in June, and ending with the British Open in July.

“If you have big events and have them spaced out one a month over a five-month period of time and you have compelling storylines, the new schedule will be even better,” said Steve Mona, CEO of the World Golf Foundation, which oversees the World Golf Hall of Fame, The First Tee and other golf growth initiatives.

The benefit has heightened interest in each of the five events.

“Golf wanes a bit in August,” said Dave Grant, president of MKTG Sports and Entertainment, which represents FedEx in the company’s sponsorship of the FedEx Cup. The FedEx Cup is expected to be completed by Labor Day in the new schedule to avoid competition with the NFL and college football. “The decision was made with the future in mind.”

The long-anticipated agreement also speaks to the strong relationship between Bevacqua and new PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan. Many insiders noted their positive working relationship was a key reason this deal, in the works for about four years, was finally concluded.

“It is a strong positive for golf just based on their actions,” Loy said. “There was great cooperation behind closed doors.”