In nothing short of an absolute stunner the United States Golf Association announced Wednesday that it has reached a 12-year media agreement with Fox Sports to carry a variety of USGA events on numerous platforms beginning in 2015. Financial specifics were not disclosed but unconfirmed reports have the deal in the neighborhood of $100 million dollars. The USGA’s partnership with NBC Sports will end after 19 years following the 2014 USGA championships.
From the USGA’s website:
“Under terms of the newly executed agreement, the USGA and FOX Sports will deliver a total of 146 hours of championship golf, including a minimum of 70 cumulative hours of live event coverage of the three Opens, making the game compelling, dramatic and fun for an expanded audience. In addition to the rights to the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open Championships, FOX Sports will also be home to the USGA’s national amateur championships and international team competitions, delivering a minimum of 76 hours of live broadcast coverage across its sports platforms, including FOX Sports 1, America’s new sports network, launching August 17.”
This is all well and good, and certainly newsworthy, considering the long-term relationship between the USGA and NBC and that Fox has never broadcast a single golf event. But what of the timing of this announcement?
This was announced Wednesday evening. The night before the PGA Championship began. Less than 24 hours before the final major of the golf season started. Why in the world would the USGA, purveyors of the slogan “For The Good of the Game” disregard any level of tact by releasing this news before another organization’s major championship? Well, that other organization is the PGA of America. The body made of 27,000 teaching professionals who, behind their outspoken President, Ted Bishop, vehemently opposed the USGA (and R&A)’s ban on the anchored putting stroke. This is about as transparent and petty as the gossip in the high school lunchroom.
Shame on the USGA. They could have done so much better. Their new media partner, FOX Sports deserves a better introduction into the golf world. Instead, the USGA stumbled through the gymnasium door like an awkward teenager all too eager to announce to the prom that he’s arrived with the pretty new girl. “For The Good of The Game”? Mike Davis, Glen Nager and the rest of the USGA big wigs had better mark that two-stroke penalty on their collective scorecard.
Now that the USGA has been thoroughly scolded, we can talk about some of the implications of this new deal.
The obvious one is that Fox has now entered the golf business to go along with their NFL, Major League Baseball, College Football and NASCAR properties. The Fox Network, already home to the World Series and Super Bowl (every third year) will have the US Open on its air, and almost more importantly, off of the NBC and ESPN air. The soon-to-launch FOX Sports 1 (and eventual Fox Sports 2) has also gained some needed inventory. Details have not been released regarding what specific Fox channel will carry individual events, but the Fox network carrying the weekend coverage of the US Open is a given. If history holds, Fox Sports 1 will likely have the early round coverage, like ESPN did with the weekend coverage moving to the main network. The other USGA Open events, the US Women’s Open and US Senior Open will probably follow suit, just as they were with ESPN/NBC.
In the fast-evolving and highly competitive cable sports arena, Fox has scored a major victory against both its chief rivals. Fox Sports 1 will look to challenge ESPN when it launches later this month. And a body blow to the already established NBC Sports (owners of Golf Channel) will also help the fledgling network.
The press release states that Fox Sports will carry the USGA’s amateur championships, but another portion of the press released reads:
This new partnership with FOX Sports also includes strategic elements to help the USGA strengthen its support of the game, including:
Integrating FOX Sport’s wide array of multi-platform assets, including its soon to launch mobile app FOX Sports GO, and innovative production capabilities to establish the U.S. Open Championship as the world’s best golf telecast;
Elevating the visibility of the USGA’s amateur championships and delivering unique storytelling to celebrate the amateur game;
Transforming U.S. Open Week into a powerful showcase and entertaining celebration of the game of golf;
Developing unique initiatives to enhance the USGA Member experience and help grow the Association’s membership community; and
Providing significant promotional support to showcase and advance the USGA’s core services to the game, including the Rules of Golf and Amateur Status, Equipment Standards, Handicapping, the USGA Green Section and the USGA Museum.
“Elevating the visibility of the USGA’s amateur championships”, eh? Does this mean that the Fox Network will carry the US Amateur and Women’s Amateur? NBC has carried the men’s amateur off-and-on throughout its USGA contract. When Tiger Woods was winning the Amateur it was on the network (he had that kind of pull even then). But I recall the mid 2000s that the event was buried on Golf Chanel. The women’s amateur is buried THIS WEEK on Golf Channel, opposite PGA Championship coverage. That’s as much a USGA scheduling issue as anything, but that’s not very “visible.”
The other point that jumps out is “Transforming U.S. Open Week into a powerful showcase and entertaining celebration of the game of golf.” I would think that using established networks like ESPN and Golf Channel would be easier to accomplish this, but perhaps the USGA (or their wallets) thought differently. It’s already a major championship and will never have the appeal of The Masters because of the connection to Augusta National, and the eight-month wait between the PGA and Masters. So I’m not quite sure what the USGA means by this, unless they see the US Open becoming something of a “Super Bowl of Golf” akin to the Daytona 500 for NASCAR. I’m not sure the US Open, or golf in general, needs one single event to be the “Super Bowl”. Whatever the case, the 2015 US Open just got a lot more interesting.