PGA Tour agrees to new TV rights deals

Tuesday, July 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Tiger Woods doesn't play in every tournament, and the advertising dollars that fuel TV rights deals are harder to come by in the current economy.

Still, the new packages the PGA Tour negotiated with broadcast and cable networks appear to have made winners of all involved.

``This was the first deal to have been done in this soft advertising marketplace, making it all the more remarkable that the tour did so well,'' IMG senior corporate VP Barry Frank said.

``At the same time, I've been in the sports television business 44 years, and only Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and now Tiger Woods have had such an incredible effect on moving the ratings needle.''

In deals driven by Woods' immense popularity, the PGA Tour agreed to contracts, announced Monday, with ABC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, USA and The Golf Channel that run from 2003-06.

They are worth about $850 million, according to two industry sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. That figure represents a roughly 45 percent rise from the tour's four-year television packages negotiated in 1997 and running from 1999-02.

It also should mean a hike in tournament prize money.

There are no major changes in the golf schedules for ABC, CBS and NBC, although each network does lose and gain tournaments.

``Everybody pretty much kept their schedule intact,'' CBS Sports president Sean McManus said. ``I think it's a fair financial deal for us and the tour.''

Under the new setup _ which doesn't include Grand Slam events because they are not sponsored by the PGA Tour _ ABC will average 18 events per year, CBS 17 and NBC five.

On cable, the biggest mover was USA, which more than doubled its golf coverage by jumping from 15 tournaments this year to 33 per year for the length of the deal.

ESPN drops from 18 to 14 events, but gains The Players Championship and The Memorial.

The Golf Channel, which aired about a dozen tournaments annually under its old package, won't have any PGA Tour events as of 2003. It does have exclusive rights to the Tour.

``Because of the overall strength of the golf marketplace, if there is a sport at least partially immune to a downturn in the economy, it's probably golf,'' McManus said.

``Obviously, the overall enthusiasm about the sport is certainly to an extent because of Tiger _ elevated ratings, elevated interest in the game. He was a factor, but year in and year out, ratings have been consistent and sales have been consistent.''

PGA Tour events in which Woods played last year had TV ratings 65 percent higher than when he didn't play, with viewership even higher when he was in contention. And his millions of dollars in endorsement deals give golf plenty of extra mainstream publicity, much as Jordan provided for the NBA.

Loren Matthews, ABC Sports' senior VP of programming, noted that the tour is drawing better audiences even when Woods doesn't fare well _ or play at all.

In the past three tournaments on ABC, final-round ratings compared to last year were up 41 percent for the Greater Hartford Open (where Woods didn't play), 32 percent for the Western Open (where Woods finished 13 strokes back), and 22 percent for the Greater Milwaukee Open (where Woods didn't play).

``The PGA Tour right now is really on a roll,'' Matthews said, ``and we would like to roll along with them.''