NORTON, Mass. -- Even without Tiger Woods dominating golf, the PGA Tour announced Thursday its longest network television deal in history Thursday that secures broadcast rights for the next 10 years.
The tour agreed to a nine-year deal with CBS Sports and NBC Sports. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem did not disclose financial terms, although he said there was an increase in the rights fee and players would see modest advances in prize money.
And that’s without any assurance that Woods -- golf’s biggest television draw -- could get back to the top of his game.
“In our business plan, we did not assume any golfer was going to be as dominant as Tiger had been in the past,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in a telephone interview. “Tiger played in a relatively small number of PGA Tour events, anyway. It would be great if he came back. It would be great if we were dominant again. But we were not assuming that in our numbers.”
The TV contract was the last big hurdle in getting through an economic crisis. The tour still managed to sign 10 new title sponsors of tournaments, and it renewed contracts with title sponsors of 12 other events.
Now, it has its television partners locked up for the next 10 years. One reason for getting a nine-year deal was to be concurrent with the 15-year deal the tour signed with Golf Channel, which began in 2007 and expires in 2021.
“A 10-year runway gives our sponsors a lot of confidence in where the television side of the sport is going to be, and that helps us in terms of creating value for our sponsors, maintaining continuity with our sponsors and extending our sponsors into the future,” Finchem said at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Finchem said he expected golf’s schedule to be largely unchanged. CBS would have about 20 tournaments, starting with the West Coast at Torrey Pines and concluding with the first FedExCup playoff event. NBC would have about 10 tournaments, including the Florida Swing, its limited-commercial presentation of The Players Championship and the last three playoff events.
NBC has two World Golf Championships early in the year, while CBS has the other at Firestone in late summer. The network deals with the major championships are separate.
Golf Channel would have the other tournaments.
“We’re thrilled to extend for nine more years and to be in business for the next decade,” said NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus. “The NBC Sports Group is obviously very bullish on the sport of golf and the PGA Tour. It’s a business deal that makes sense for our company and will be profitable.”
Television contracts have fueled the growth in prize money, which has gone from about $80 million in Woods’ first full season in 1997 to nearly $280 million this year. For years, TV ratings spike when he plays and are even higher when he wins.
Woods has not won in two years. He failed to qualify for the FedExCup playoffs this year for the first time. And because of injuries to his left leg that kept him out for most of four months, he appeared on only six network telecasts.
“The fans clearly have taken increasingly to the nature of our competition over the last couple of years, and in doing so, have reinstilled confidence in our sport that might have been waning when our No. 1 player was not that active two of the last four years,” Finchem said.
“But there is such tremendous buzz and focus on this juxtaposition of Tiger and Phil (Mickelson) … against this huge increase in young players who are coming forward and able to win tournaments at every level.”
Players routinely have said over the last decade that Woods is big reason why they play for so much money. The networks are relying on the next generation of stars, even if none of them can come close to Woods’ appeal.
Finchem said he has not done enough analysis to project how much higher prize money will get over the next 10 years, only that he expects it to keep going up.
“I think we’re going to be comfortable with the growth,” he said. “It’s not going to be a ‘going up Everest’ curve, but it’s going to be a consistent growth pattern,” he said.
For the last TV negotiations, Finchem revamped the schedule and created the FedExCup, a series of four blockbuster tournaments after the majors in which players complete a points race by competing for $35 million in bonus money, with $10 million for the winner.
He said in July his staff was looking at various models to take to negotiations. Turns out that wasn’t necessary.
“Tim went into this negotiation with his team with a set of goals, as did we, and our goal quite simply was to renew the PGA Tour to keep our best tournaments, to keep the schedule intact, and come out with a deal that made sense for both us and our partners at the PGA Tour,” McManus said. “And I’m pleased to say that I think we did that. And I could not be happier.”
One new component to this deal was digital media.
Finchem said the agreements allow for new coverage that will include simulcast coverage of live coverage on websites of its broadcast partners, and perhaps even special coverage on Golf Channel as a tournament is live on NBC Sports. Both are owned by Comcast.