The way you watch the PGA Tour — and maybe the LPGA Tour — could be changing dramatically in the next few years.
Sports Business Daily reported Monday (paywall) (via Geoff Shackelford) that the PGA Tour is exploring a variety of options to distribute and air its tournaments differently. Among those options are the possibility of launching a PGA Tour-owned cable network or expansion of its PGA Tour Live over-the-top service, as well changing its partner mix to include more or different partners, including Fox, ESPN and Turner Sports.
Paramount to any changes the Tour would make is forging new deals with its broadcast partners, CBS and Comcast-owned NBC and Golf Channel. The Tour has a deal with all three entities through 2021, but SBD reports the deals with the networks have an opt-out clause that the Tour is considering exercising. A new deal with CBS and NBC would kick in starting in 2019.
The Tour’s contract with Golf Channel, however, does not have an opt-out clause. SBD reports the Tour is trying to find a way to wiggle out of that deal, potentially by either renegotiating the deal to include a PGA Tour stake in Golf Channel or adding other early-round partners. It wouldn’t be feasible for the Tour to launch its own channel without early-round coverage that Golf Channel currently offers, as well the full tournament coverage Golf Channel offers for the first seven events of the PGA Tour season.
Of course, pursuing a PGA Tour Network on television would be difficult without help from Comcast, which is the nation’s largest cable distributor. That would make a joint-ownership option attractive, similar to what the NFL has pursued with its network.
The obvious question is why the Tour might pursue such a renegotiation. Theories abound. Outgoing commissioner Tim Finchem may want one last big deal as he walks out the door, cashing in just as the sports right bubble is bursting. It could be that the PGA Tour sees the increase in cord-cutting and the move to streaming packages from the likes of Hulu, YouTube and Sony and wants to go direct to the consumer rather than through Golf Channel. It could be a simple recognition that a deal that lasts another five years will end with viewing habits in a very different place, and the PGA Tour smartly realizes that shorter, nimble deals would give them the option to pivot to trends relatively quickly.
There’s also the small possibility that nothing comes of this exploration, but Finchem has made it somewhat clear in his public remarks this year that this is the big thing he’s working on before he leaves the post.