The US Open — and presumably the US Women’s Open, US Amateur and the full slate of USGA championships — is returning to NBC Sports Group.
In shocking news first reported by the Associated Press, NBC Sports Group has taken over the remaining seven years of Fox Sports’ 12-year television rights contract with the USGA. Since 2015, Fox has been paying $93 million per year to the USGA for championship broadcast rights. Now, NBC Sports Group will assume that contract, albeit at a reported discount of some 45 percent compared to what Fox was paying.
This situation unfolded in recent weeks, according to the AP, after Fox expressed an interest in putting the whole US Open — not just portions — on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), their cable sports channel. When Fox overpaid for the rights to get into the sport and ponied up $1 billion for the 12-year deal in 2014, it was expected Fox would look to use the deal to bolster its FS1 programming, hoping to ultimately be able to charge cable subscribers more per month to have the channel. Fox has broadcast portions of the US Open on FS1 since 2015, as well larger portions of other USGA championships that don’t have the same audience as the US Open. However, the USGA was not willing to become the first major broadcast entirely on cable and reportedly precipitated the discussion that led to NBC taking over the deal.
This means the US Open will be broadcast on NBC in September for the first time since June 2014. The 2020 US Open has been postponed from June to September amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it will still be played at New York’s Winged Foot Golf Club. NBC Sports Group President Pete Bevacqua and lead NBC Sports announcer Dan Hicks are both members at Winged Foot.
In the five years Fox Sports broadcast USGA events, they challenged thinking and introduced several innovations which have now become commonplace in golf telecasts, including more frequent and different use of shot trails, placing more microphones on the course, showing a dynamic leaderboard and making golf architecture an important part of the telecasts.
Ultimately, NBC Sports even hired Fox’s lead golf commentator, Paul Azinger, to replace Johnny Miller in the 18th tower for their telecasts, letting Azinger work Fox events, too. Now, there won’t be any overlap.
In taking over the USGA contract, NBC Sports Group now has rights to the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, European Tour, US Open, The Open, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.