PGA Tour TV Deal
Big Win For USA
Overlooked in the breathless analysis of the PGA Tour's new four-year, $850 million television contract was the fact that, starting in 2003, the network that will air the most Tour action (about 200 hours) will be the same one whose current prime-time lineup features reruns of Jag, Nash Bridges and Walker, Texas Ranger. That's right, the USA Network is the new sheriff on Tour.
Other than the giant step back-ward taken by the Golf Channel, which was shut out of Tour telecasts, USA's great leap forward was the most significant aspect of the contract. USA signed on to cover an average of 30 events a year, although mostly only the first and second rounds. The Golf Channel showed early-round action from 10 Tour events this year and added the weekend rounds from the two tournaments held opposite majors, such as last week's B.C. Open. The Golf Channel was left with the booby prize—18 Buy.com tour events.
Golf Channel officials tried to put a positive spin on the outcome, saying that the 70 to 90 hours of Tour coverage it lost were a drop in the bucket compared with its thousand-plus hours of live coverage of 30-plus European tour events, six Canadian tournaments and up to 16 LPGA events. Nonetheless, imagine a Football Channel without the NFL.
The bottom line is that the Golf Channel still can't play with the big boys. The channel has almost 40 million households, but that's less than half as many as USA and ESPN each have. " The Golf Channel didn't look ready to pay the big money, and it doesn't have a lot of distribution," says a high-ranking executive at a major broadcast network. "When you're trying to give your sponsors distribution and you've got only 40 million homes, that's a tough sell. For USA, Thursday and Friday golf brings in a viewer who might not watch USA for any other reason. The audience that golf attracts—affluent males-is attractive."
USA's haul of 120 events over four years makes the other networks' numbers seem puny. ABC will average 18 Tour events a year, CBS 17, ESPN nine and NBC only five. USA's quantity of telecasts may finally raise the cable channel's golf profile. " USA probably wouldn't be a golf fan's first channel to go to, but this new package will change that," says Gordon Beck, USA's senior vice president and sports executive producer. "It makes us a consistent destination for golf fans."
USA lacks a strong golf identity because it works in conjunction with the over-the-air networks. If you saw Chris DiMarco's first-round 65 at the Masters, a CBS event, you were watching USA. Tiger Woods's second-round 67 at the Bay Hill Invitational, an ABC tournament, was on USA. Jerry Kelly's second-round 66 at the Players Championship, an NBC event, was on USA, which also carries first-day coverage of the Ryder Cup.
USA piggybacks on the host broadcast network's trucks, lines, crews and announcing talent. USA provides two announcers-Peter Kostis and Bill Macatee, who work for CBS on the weekends—and a studio report based in the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla. "We can work with any of the networks," Beck says. "Frankly, if you're a good announcer, it's not important to me what network the viewer attaches you to. If you see one of the better announcers on USA on a weekday and on another network on a weekend, hey, that works for me."
With 21 years together, USA's Kostis and Macatee have the oldest 18-hole-tower partnership in golf. They stand to get even more exposure starting in 2003.
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