Tiger frenzy drives nets to spend big on pro golf

NEW YORK — The PGA Tour signed new four-year pacts with each of the Big Three networks Sunday. Fox Sports was spurned in its bid to obtain broadcast coverage, but Fox Sports Net and the Golf Channel, in which Fox owns a minority stake, will share in a cable package.

Emboldened by golf’s attractive demos and the celebrity of the sport’s new superstar Tiger Woods, Professional Golf Assn. officials are said to have more than doubled the pricetag on the current $96 million-a-year pact currently shared by NBC, CBS and ABC, which expires in 1998.

CBS still sport’s leader

Under the new deal, which extends from 1999 to 2002, CBS Sports remains the key broadcast partner, with 18 tournaments. NBC and ABC will split about 16 more, and USA and ESPN will share early-round cable packages. But some individual tournaments will switch networks or move to cable from network.

CBS, already under pressure to win and retain sports rights, faced a major challenge from Fox, and from a combo of ABC and ESPN, to extend their own pacts at the Eye web’s expense.

“Our goal, and our only goal going in, was to retain our position as the dominant network for the PGA Tour, and we accomplished it,” said CBS Sports prexy Sean McManus. “The price went up significantly, but from our standpoint we will make a reasonable profit.”

The Masters tourney, site of Woods’ recent victory, isn’t affected by the new pact because the Augusta National Golf Club negotiates its TV rights separately year to year. CBS has the Masters again in 1998.

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