Tour Renews TV Network Deals Through 2021, Includes Strong Focus on Digital Media
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Dude, check out this awesome new app -- the Tour is getting w/the times!

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, who was joined by CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus and NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus via the phone, held a press conference at TPC Boston, the site of this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, to announce that the Tour has reached nine-year television agreements with CBS and NBC, extending rights through 2021.

Unfortunately, I was making the excruciating four-hour drive up I-95 from NYC and missed the show. Thanks to social media — which happens to be a key component to the plans for expansion in the digital area — I was able to follow some of it via Geoff Shackelford’s tweets (of course, I pulled over in a safe area) and you can read the full transcript here.

While financial details weren’t disclosed (shock), Finchem said there was an increase in the rights fee and a minor growth in tournament purses. And that’s despite the struggling yet improving economy and without the guarantee that Tiger Woods will regain his form. Well played, Commish!

Anyway, here’s the bulk of the media blast:

PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem, CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus and NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus announced today the completion of unprecedented broadcast network television agreements that will secure the PGA TOUR’s television rights for the next 10 years.  With the current deals running through 2012, the new nine-year agreements with CBS and NBC will extend from 2013 through the 2021 season, coinciding with the remaining years of the PGA TOUR’s exclusive 15-year cable television agreement with Golf Channel that began in 2007.

CBS will continue its current broadcast television package, an average of 20 tournaments through the life of the agreements, while NBC will continue to televise an average of 10 events per year.

Highlights of the CBS package include the majority of the popular West Coast Swing; a strong spring and summer schedule; the end of the FedExCup Regular Season including the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and the play-in event to the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup, the Wyndham Championship; and coverage of The Barclays to begin the Playoffs. CBS will maintain more than 130 hours of live weekend coverage per year.

NBC will continue to have a strong first quarter of coverage including two World Golf Championships events – the Accenture Match Play Championship and Cadillac Championship – and the Southern Swing; extended coverage of THE PLAYERS Championship in May with limited commercial interruption; and the final three Playoff events: the Deutsche Bank Championship, BMW Championship and the FedExCup season-ending TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. NBC also will continue coverage of the biennial Presidents Cup. In all, NBC will have more than 75 hours of live coverage annually.

Golf Channel will continue to open the PGA TOUR season with four-round coverage of the first three tournaments, provide exclusive early-round coverage of the tournaments televised by CBS and NBC, and provide four-round coverage of alternate events and the Fall Series. In addition, Golf Channel will continue to broadcast prime time replays of its early round coverage, and will have rights to expand its exclusive lead-in coverage and replays for every event televised by CBS and NBC.

Financial terms of the new television deals were not disclosed, as has been the case historically with the PGA TOUR and its network partners. However, Finchem indicated that rights fee increases in this new term will allow the PGA TOUR to grow financial opportunities for players, invest in digital assets for fans globally that will create more one-on-one interactions between players, tournaments and fans and will position the TOUR to allow for increasing charitable contributions.

The new agreements also will provide for innovative coverage on digital platforms and the Golf Channel designed to enhance and expand the viewing experience for PGA TOUR fans. This includes:

  • A wide range of simulcast coverage of live tournament action on various PGA TOUR digital platforms starting with PGATOUR.COM, as well as, and
  • Additional digital coverage of a number of tournaments featuring the ability to enjoy coverage from marquee holes, competition highlights and regular news updates from tournament sites; and
  • In partnership with NBC and Golf Channel, innovative, new live complementary tournament coverage on Golf Channel, which will air along with NBC’s coverage

These innovations, some of which will be implemented in 2012 and all of which will be implemented by 2013, will allow the PGA TOUR to connect with its fans in a much broader and diverse way, potentially doubling the hours of coverage available.

Well, duh. It’s about time. As we’ve grown to accept, golf is always at least five years behind other sports and industries — I think mostly because of the game’s emphasis on tradition (even ones that are outdated). Change doesn’t exactly happen overnight and it’s hard to accept by all parties involved. Trust me. That said, I credit the Tour for planning to make further efforts to embrace social media and integrate it into the traditional coverage.

In March this year starting at the Honda Classic, the Tour lifted its obsolete cell phone ban, allowing fans to bring their iPhones and Androids onto the grounds. Fans were even encouraged to take pictures during practice rounds and share them via Twitter, Facebook and their personal blogs.

“We’ve found that it’s been a very manageable situation,” said Finchem of the policy. “Our fans have been very respectful of how to handle a cell phone on-site.

“[Cell phones] do open up a communication conduit for the fan on-site. So we will be looking to a massive increase in usage of digital activity, not just how it relates to the coverage, but to other forms of access by our fans. Because we’re partnering with our broadcast partners in these areas, it will generate not only value to the broadcast carrier but value to our sponsors, and it will result in a much more robust array of communication that is available to our fan base.”

Embracing mobile technology was long overdue and I commend the Tour for finally making the leap, but I believe there’s room for improvement and the need to clarify (and perhaps modernize) some of their policies..

Members of the working press without photo credentials are not allowed to take pictures during practice days and publish them on Twitter and/or websites. But wait — am I allowed to retweet pictures that photogs post? (I wasn’t given a clear answer when I asked in March.) While I understand the Tour has to protect the rights of its television and photography partners, that doesn’t seem to apply during practice rounds. The thing is, photographers can’t be everywhere and they’re usually snapping pics of Tiger Woods or other marquee players because those are what sell.The rest of us are taking random photos that provide a different view of the tournament, which, in my experience, readers have really enjoyed.

We’re also not supposed to tweet play-by-play while we’re on the course (but we can from the media center). Well, supposedly we can sparingly, and from what I’ve been told, exceptions are sometimes made. By nature, it’s impossible for TV cameras to cover every single player and/or group during practice and tournament rounds. Fans can share pictures and videos, but I believe it’d reach a larger audience if say, blog websites are allowed to, as well.

I realize the digital sphere is relatively new to the Tour and there are lots of gray areas involved that will eventually be sorted out.

Without the advent of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. in the last decade, Wei Under Par wouldn’t exist — social media is the reason I’m typing this from the media center at the Deutsche Bank Championship right now and have had the opportunity to cover Tour events (I think I’ve been to 22 this season). For that, I am extremely thankful for the privilege I’ve been granted to try to provide readers and golf fans with a fresh perspective that’s distinct from what you find in the mainstream media.

The Tour, along with its broadcast partners, is moving in the right direction — but other sports have already taken such measures. CBS had an app where you could watch March Madness from your iPhone and/or iPad. For a fee, ESPN has an app to watch games it broadcasts. Same with the MLB. With a subscription to DIRECTV, fans can watch live streaming of every “NFL Sunday Ticket” game from their smartphone.

However, the Tour has @LIVE on its website where you can watch a hole or two from your iPhone at select events.

Some of my colleagues think that perhaps golf is behind because of its older demographic compared to other sports. Well, the age range of the majority of WUP readers is probably around 30-65, but I’ve been impressed with how technologically savvy they are, so that’s not a major hurdle. And if the Tour embraces the scary new media using the right approach (less corporate chatter and more of a laissez-faire approach), then chances are it’ll attract new and younger viewers and fans.

Well, good news is golf is making an effort to stay in touch with the changing times technologically and it’s indisputable the Tour has done an excellent job financially.