PGA Tour: Coming up green
In what promises to be a historic year for sports media rights, the PGA Tour struck first.
With the MLB, MLS, NFL and NHL in various stages of negotiations around their own media deals, the PGA Tour secured nine-year deals with CBS, NBC, Golf Channel and ESPN that will bring in 60%-70% more revenue each year than current agreements. Combined, the deal is worth a little more than $700 million per year for the rights.
The deals start in 2022 and run through 2030. The tour’s international deal with Discovery, announced last year, also ends in 2030. Tour and media executives declined to disclose financial terms of the newest deals, which also includes an extension of the LPGA Tour’s media rights with Golf Channel plus added hours on NBC and CBS.
The PGA Tour signed a deal with ESPN for its digital rights over the weekend. PGA Tour executives, including Chief Media Officer Rick Anderson, were camped out in Bristol, Conn., for most of last week to put the finishing touches on that agreement.
“We did well enough that we know that we’re going to be in position to substantially grow our prize money over the term of the deal and also to reinvest in our content and our product,” Anderson said.
Both CBS and NBC were eager to continue relationships with the PGA Tour. CBS has carried tour events for six decades. NBC first started producing tour events in the 1960s.
“It’s a foundational sport for us in that once the Final Four is over, it’s the majority of our programming until we start with college football and the NFL in the fall,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus. “If we didn’t have that, it would be difficult to fill all those hours with programming that was close to being as prestigious as the PGA Tour is.”
NBC Sports President Pete Bevacqua sounded a similar theme.
“Golf has become such a foundational element of who we are at NBC Sports,” he said. “We want to continue to really be the voice of golf in this country for the foreseeable future. You cannot be that without a relationship with the PGA Tour.”
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In many respects, the PGA Tour’s new television deals look similar to the tour’s old media rights deals, with CBS, NBC and Golf Channel splitting the linear TV rights. Upward of 65% of network advertising sales comes through the tour’s title sponsors and FedEx.
But the new deals feature several important changes that give the tour more control over how the sport is covered.
Deal terms have CBS and NBC carrying all three FedExCup Playoff tournaments in alternating years. NBC will carry them in 2022; CBS in 2023. “Having both of them have the playoffs is important because everybody is invested in how those are covered and how to grow their importance,” Anderson said.
The tour will have more of a say in how its tournaments are produced, as it will take over control of the on-site television compound from the networks. CBS and NBC will have their own producers and announcers, but the tour will handle everything else.
“That was a major point for us,” Anderson said. “We thought it was important because we have all this content that we want to produce for multiple partners that we actually needed to step into the management and leadership of that.”
Golf Channel will continue to carry early-round coverage and the Korn Ferry Tour. The PGA Tour did not take an equity stake in the channel, contrary to rumors that were floated during the negotiating process. But the two sides left open the possibility of renaming Golf Channel eventually to include the PGA Tour brand, Anderson said.
“The vast bulk of that channel is PGA Tour programming,” Anderson said. “We want to be involved in programming the network and figuring out the best scheduling windows for all the tours, including the LPGA, and get innovative in terms of the shows and the type of coverage that we do. We’re working side by side with them in much less of a licensee type of way. We’re rolling up our sleeves and doing it together. … It’s going to function differently than it ever has. I’m really excited about how that’s going to work going forward.”
“It’s fair to say that part of the true fabric of the Golf Channel is our partnership with the PGA Tour. It is a fundamental element of what the Golf Channel is about.”
The PGA Tour hired Evolution Media as counsel on its rights deals.
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The tour’s digital deal with ESPN+ will make the subscription streaming service PGA Tour Live available through ESPN+. The service is expected to have four feeds that can show up to eight groups, up from its current one live feed that can show only two groups.
The digital deal allows the tour and ESPN to experiment with different feeds to better find out what’s popular.
The deal calls for ViacomCBS, Comcast/NBC and Disney to provide more marketing assets, including allowing the tour to market across other sports and entertainment properties.
The media rights deals fit in the tour’s strategy of locking up long-term agreements both on the sponsorship and media sides of its business.
Its sponsorship deal with FedEx, renewed in 2017, runs for 10 years and its $2 billion deal with Discovery for rights to live international coverage reportedly runs for 12 years. Schwab has a 20-year sponsorship deal with the PGA Tour and the PGA Tour Champions, and most of the tour’s tournament title deals range between five- and 10-year agreement.
WarnerMedia among others that eyed deal
The PGA Tour talked to everybody and looked at every option” as part of a five-year process of figuring out how to sell its media rights, the tour’s Chief Media Officer Rick Anderson said.
“We looked at options that included everybody and options that excluded everybody,” Anderson said. “It was different from any deal I’ve been involved with because of the scope of the different people that were interested.”
The tour finalized nine-year deals with CBS, NBC, Golf Channel and ESPN+.
The tour had serious talks with WarnerMedia, which wanted digital and cable rights. That plan would have put PGA Tour action on HLN, which would have been rebranded as a golf-focused channel.
WarnerMedia was thought to have a negotiating advantage, given that AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson sits on the tour’s board. But Stephenson recused himself from all discussions of media rights and did not get involved. Anderson said he has not spoken in front of Stephenson in two years. WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey and News and Sports Chairman Jeff Zucker led those negotiations.
Discovery, which holds the PGA Tour’s international rights, made a small run for the tour’s U.S. rights. Discovery would have picked up the rights in concert with Comcast, but those talks quickly were overshadowed by ESPN’s interest.
Among the big tech companies, Amazon and Google/YouTube showed an interest in picking up digital rights, but neither came close to a deal. Facebook and Twitter engaged in early talks but never got serious.
The PGA Tour expected Fox Sports to make a bid. But the network that holds USGA rights never showed an interest in even a partial package of PGA Tour rights. — J.O./J.L.
Editor’s note: This story is updated from the print edition.