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Fox Breaks Up With U.S. Golf Association; NBC Sports Picks Up New Rights

Toni Kukoc Toni Kukoc hits a
Nam Y Huh/AP/Shutterstock

A bad swing for golf has led Fox Sports to drop its potentially lucrative rights deal with the U.S. Golf Association, which is transferring to NBCUniversal.

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic forced a shift in dates for the sport’s U.S. Open to September from June, leaving Fox hard-pressed to come up with the necessary broadcast hours due to the network’s commitment to the National Football League to show that organization’s games on both Sunday and Thursday. Fox and NBC Sports initially looked to find a way to share the rights package to the event this year, but that led to an agreement for NBC to take over, according to a statement Monday from the U.S. Golf Association.

“We are thrilled to acquire the remainder of Fox Sports’ USGA agreement, and will carry the designated USGA events, including the U.S. Open, through 2026,” said Pete Bevacqua, president of NBC Sports Group, in a statement. “Adding these prestigious USGA events to our already incredibly deep golf business, led by our long-term PGA Tour partnership, as well as The Open Championship and the Ryder Cup, positions us as absolute leaders in the golf space. This deal is advantageous for all parties, including NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Peacock and the USGA, but also Fox Sports, and we thank them for working with us to complete this transaction. ”

The Associated Press, New York Post and The Wall Street Journal previously reported aspects of the rights transfer.

The pact allows NBCUniversal, which operates the Golf Channel, to offer more of the sport through its own platforms. NBC in May was one of three big media companies that struck a deal earlier this year with the PGA valued at least at $680 million, for partial rights to that organization’s events NBC already has lucrative digital rights to PGA events. At a time when the viability of the many of the nation’s popular close-contact sports are in question, many media companies have bet on golf to help them win back bigger TV audiences. The sport allows for social distancing between competitors and doesn’t need a large crowd surrounding the action for TV audiences to pay attention.

NBCU will pay the golf organization significantly less than what Fox had offered, according to a person familiar with the matter. Fox had in 2013 agreed to a $1.1 billion deal for the USGA rights, part of a pact that had been slated to last from 2015 to 2027. Fox’s annual payment of $93 million was well in excess of  the $37 million that had previously been paid per year by NBC and ESPN. The new NBCU deal is said to be only a little higher than the $37 million, this person said. USGA ratings on Fox had not been as robust as anticipated.

Under terms of the pact, NBCUniversal will broadcast the four championships the USGA will conduct in 2020: the 120th U.S. Women’s Amateur; the 120th U.S. Amateur; the 120th U.S. Open;  and the 75th U.S. Women’s Open.

“Partnering with NBCUniversal, including Golf Channel, gives us an unparalleled opportunity to connect and engage with the core golf audience more directly and routinely, and as a non-profit, to continue to have a significant and lasting impact on the game,” said Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA, in a statement.

The new deal will last through the end of 2026, the USGA and NBCU said.

The agreement will give USGA an opportunity to have its games showcased on NBCU’s new Peacock streaming-video hub. “We have implemented a defined strategy to build our digital offerings over the last six years and have achieved significant success. The reach and engagement of our championships will only increase through the NBCUniversal family, including their commitment to bring their “Live From” program to the U.S. Women’s Open beginning in 2021 and to cover Golf’s Longest Day linked to U.S. Open qualifying,” said Davis.

NBCU will, starting in 2021, broadcast eight of the USGA’s championships without commericals, including the U.S. Women’s Open and the Walker Cup. During the U.S. Open, the last hour of the final round will air uninterrupted. A sponsorship deal in place with Rolex makes such coverage possible, the companies said.

“Fox Sports has cherished its time as home to the USGA championships for the past six years. This is a relationship and partnership that has been second to none,” said Eric Shanks, CEO and executive producer of Fox Sports, in a statement. “Recent events calling for the shift of the U.S. Open created scheduling challenges that were difficult to overcome. While we are proud of the success we’ve built over these years, this is a win for golf fans everywhere, a win for the USGA and a win for Fox and NBC Sports.”