Discovery Inc. believes golf could be a content staple for the company for years to come, and they’ve sent plenty of public signals they’re already a key force in how many fans experience pro golf.
They’ve acquired international rights to the PGA Tour, rolling it out over several years to a host of countries outside the United States.
They have international rights to the Ryder Cup, through an agreement with the European Tour for digital broadcast rights.
They have live international broadcast rights in 25 countries to the Ladies European Tour and the next two Solheim Cups, both on TV and digitally.
Tiger Woods even signed a lucrative deal with Golf TV to develop unique, exclusive content for their distribution.
In countries where Golf TV can’t broadcast all of those tours, golf fans can still subscribe and get access to their content library, much of it available on-demand.
While none of this content will yet be available in the United States, Discovery has rights to “execute an owned or partner distribution strategy” in this country.
It seems clear Discovery, which has amassed international rights to a variety of big-time sporting events and leagues, has big aspirations that could include eventually building distribution in the United States in partnership with the PGA Tour. That could mean developing a PGA Tour linear cable network, just in time for the channel to take over PGA Tour broadcasts in the United States in 2022, when the Tour’s deal with Golf Channel ends. Maybe not; a lot of that depends on what Golf Channel or some other American broadcasting behemoth (ESPN, Turner Sports, Fox Sports) would be willing to pay to keep or obtain TV and digital rights.
Regardless of what happens on that front, Discovery appears to be making a play to expand its reach in the United States with a bid to purchase Golf Digest assets from Conde Nast, according to the New York Post.
The Newhouse family, which owns Conde Nast, put Digest up for sale, along with two other publications, in August. Conde Nast has been fielding bids from the get-go, with several dozen potential legitimate suitors. Bidders were made aware they would have to buy all Digest assets, including the long-standing magazine which has seen a drop in paid distribution along with most print publications. The Digest website is one of the highest-trafficked in golf, and the brand has other products — events, in particular — that could be lucrative. Discovery has already hired Golf TV staff away from Digest and Conde Nast, prior to its bid for the publication.
For Discovery, in which the Newhouse family has a small stock stake, the Digest brand brings further recognition and credibility. It gives them a pathway to deliver content in the United States, combining Golf TV offerings with Digest’s deep library. Acquiring Digest could be an effective way to lure more sponsors and advertisers to Golf TV.
And, if and when the opportunity is available to fully enter the American market with broadcast and/or streaming rights, having Digest available could complete a well-rounded offering to capture the attention of golf fans on any device.
Make no mistake: Discovery has ambitious aims in golf, and a bid for Digest only further signals a broader plan.
The reality is Golf Channel exists today primarily because it has PGA Tour broadcast rights. As insiders tell the story, Golf Channel nearly folded multiple times. Bringing in the PGA Tour helped save it, putting it up there with key moments like the acquisition by Comcast and joining the NBC Sports Group after the merger with NBCUniversal. Without PGA Tour rights, Golf Channel has gaping holes in their schedule, and it would be impossible to replace it with anything that would draw the same audience — even factoring in PGA Tour Champions and Web.com Tour broadcasts.
That means Golf Channel and NBC Sports Group are highly motivated to outbid every other potential suitor to keep broadcast rights. Unfortunately for them, the Tour has been courting other suitors. Discovery would be interested, particularly as they look to establish a sporting foothold in the United States. Amazon, whose Prime service also offers PGA Tour Live in 2019, paid to gobble up Thursday Night Football rights from the NFL and is seeking more. Google wants to be in play. Maybe Facebook, which has broadcast portions of PGA Tour events on their Facebook Live service, would pay up. ESPN is trying to grow their digital ESPN+ service, while Turner Sports wants their B/R Live to have more digital content. Fox Sports is desperate to have destination programming as a reason to increase their monthly service fees, and they no doubt have goals of launching a deeper digital Fox Sports Go service.
With all of these potential suitors — and surely others unknown — in play, does Discovery have an edge with the formal partnership with the PGA Tour already in place? Maybe. Maybe not. These next broadcast deals are likely the last of their kind. As millions continue to shed cable for other services in a constantly evolving universe, there will be pressure on cable channels to pay up for valuable content (even if it’s a loss leader) that compels cable subscribers to remain plugged in to the bitter end. As 5G internet begins rolling out in mobile networks, a dramatic shift in content delivery could lead to a resurgence for traditional cable companies by cutting the cord themselves. Whatever happens, the market is unsettled enough that the PGA Tour stands to benefit from companies desperate to win the new content wars.