NBC Sports Lands Open Championship TV; Deal Commences 2017

By M. James Ward, Epoch Times Contributor
June 9, 2015 7:18 pm Last Updated: June 9, 2015 9:23 pm

New York, NY. After losing the telecast rights for United States Golf Association (USGA) events in late 2013—the most significant being the Men’s Open—NBC Sports rebounded in a big time way with the announcement this week of a major television deal with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (R&A). The deal—12 years in length and worth a reported $50 million—represents a critical acquisition for NBC Sports and Golf Channel.

Starting in 2017, when The Open is played at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England, and lasting through 2028, NBC Sports becomes the sole broadcast vehicle for coverage in the United States highlighted by securing the game’s oldest major event—The Open Championship. The deal also includes coverage of The Senior Open, The Women’s British Open, Walker and Curtis Cups when hosted in the UK / Ireland and Amateur Championship.

NBC Sports lost the opportunity to renew with the USGA—a relationship that commenced in 1995—and the impact was a major blow to the momentum the network had built in expanding its presence in golf. In 1991, NBC Sports started its involvement in telecasting Ryder Cup Matches and the hype associated with the bi-annual matches has been a major plus for the network’s standing in the sport. In late 2013 an extension was announced commencing in 2015 and going through 2030.

A quick overview of the impact of the new deal provides the following conclusions:

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1). NBC Sports did not sit back and allow its golf involvement be further limited. Landing a major golf championship is essential in demonstrating credibility in the sport since there are only four per year. While The Open is not followed by the sheer number of people who annually view the U.S. Men’s Open from an American vantage point, the prestige in broadcasting the game’s oldest major is clearly a triumph in ending the potential isolation that would have happened if another network secured the rights.

2). The success of NBC Sports stems the push made by Fox Sports after it successfully landed exclusive rights to all key USGA national championships and using that success in building the standing of its new cable network—Fox Sports 1. Fox will need to show it is ready to handle the demands when it broadcasts its first Men’s Open from Chambers Bay—just outside of Seattle—next week.

3). The losers are clearly ESPN and ABC, with ABC showing The Open since 1962. Under ESPN’s current eight-year deal, worth $25 million, ESPN showed live coverage while highlights aired on ABC. ESPN will still be involved with The Masters but clearly its involvement within golf has moved into the rear shadows.

4). NBC Sports has the wherewithal to replicate the success it had when it owned the rights—for 43 years—in broadcasting the most prestigious crown in tennis—Wimbledon. In that relationship NBC Sports created “Breakfast at Wimbledon” showcasing live final action in the men’s and women’s divisions. In all likelihood NBC Sports will do likewise now with The Open Championship.

5). A clear winner is Golf Channel. The cable outlet will now have its first live major championship coverage in its partnership relationship with NBC Sports. Not many years ago Golf Channel was a struggling entity—getting top tier tournaments was a needed item in order to generate increased eye-balls. This deal now does that in big time way. Since 2011—when the Comcast-owned network joined NBC Sports—rating have risen 57% with its four highest rated years in network history.

6). With a number of pundits weighing in that NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller would likely fade into the sunset, the new deal means the former U.S. and British Open Champion will once again climb high on the visibility perch. Miller’s involvement will start at the very location where he won the ’76 Open—Royal Birkdale.