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Combining Golf Units Puts NBC Sports in the Green

It’s always time for golf at NBCUniversal. With upfront ad buying for 2012 under way, putting together NBC’s broad reach broadcast tournament coverage with the deeply engaged viewers of the Golf Channel on cable is a winning combination, according to Seth Winter, head of sales for NBC Sports Group.

“It’s been a metamorphosis about how we go to the marketplace, because our [golf] vertical is now a 52-week entity,” Winter says. “We represent almost two-thirds of all golf viewership, and it compels the marketplace to engage us much more profoundly on a much more continuous basis.”

Golf Channel was owned by Comcast. After the cable giant acquired control of NBCUniversal in January, the NBC Sports Group put its broadcast, cable and online golf platforms together, sharing events, onair talent and, increasingly, sponsors. As part of NBC Sports Group, Golf Channel is on track to have its best year ever, no small feat in a year when Tiger Woods’ name has rarely been seen at the top of leaderboards.

As Golf Channel gets set to promote the kickoff of the 2012 PGA season—readying a clock that will count down to the first drive of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Jan. 6—Winter says he expects to see increased ad volume, thanks in part to having a Ryder Cup, a primetime U.S. Open and Olympics golf on next year’s schedule. He also expects NBCU to increase its share of the market and to bring new advertisers in.

Winter says 2011, which didn’t have those events, was a good year nevertheless. He expects ad sales to finish up in the mid-to-high single digits. According to Nielsen, ad spending on TV golf in the first nine months of 2011 was $769 million, up 5% from $733 million in 2010.

Already lined up as sponsors for the 2012 PGA season kickoff on Golf Channel are Hyundai, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sprint, Chase, the Hawaii Convention and Visitors Bureau and Kay Jewelers. Each advertiser has the same sort of integration with Golf Channel programming to create the kind of 360-degree marketing programs sponsors crave.

The combination of NBC and Golf Channel benefits some advertisers, particularly those without the resources to be a title sponsor of a PGA event, says Miraj Parikh, VP and media director at Spark Communications. “Previously, you could always go to the Golf Channel, but you wouldn’t necessarily be able to get broadcast reach,” he says. “By being aligned, it does help for a sponsor that might not have a large-scale budget to get some added value, but yet also get a broadcast-reach component.”

Parikh is a bit more reserved about the state of the golf market. He says that golf viewership has not bounced back to the level it reached during Woods’ glory days. Parikh adds that “you’re seeing a bit of a resurgence with the financial services category” and that endemic advertisers—equipment makers and so forth—continue to advertise during tournaments and other programming.

CBS has also been writing golf business, and sports sales chief John Bogusz is bullish about 2012, predicting an increase in the mid-to-high single-digit range in sales. “The marketplace looks good,” Bogusz says. “Most of the regular players are there, whether it’s the equipment manufacturers or some of the financials.”

Bogusz adds that after Woods’ recent win at a non-Tour event in California, “there seems to be some optimism about Tiger. There’s a lot of good young players, but Tiger is still Tiger.” Despite his personal issues, Woods remains golf’s biggest star, attracting viewers and sponsors to the sport. “If Tiger’s on the leaderboard it’s reflected in the ratings, and that’s advantageous for everyone,” Bogusz says.

As for the competition with NBC and the Golf Channel, Bogusz notes that CBS has two majors and 18 other tournaments that serious golf advertisers want to be in.

Golf Channel’s 2012 PGA kickoff starts with the countdown clock and a series of Golf Central specials beginning on Dec. 26. A New Year’s Day special produced with the USGA will cover the game’s new rules. Golf Channel’s Morning Drive will start previewing the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the first event on the PGA Tour for 2012, starting Jan. 2. Golf Talk Live will be live from Maui on Jan. 5, featuring personalities from both Golf Channel and NBC.

All four rounds of the Hyundai event will air live Jan. 6 to 9, exclusively on Golf Channel. Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo will work together during the event. Golf Central, Golf Channel’s news series, will air before and after each live tournament round as a pre- and postgame show.

In the digital realm, will have a PGA Tour Kickoff landing page and Golf Channel will be launching a new app for iPhones and iPads. The network will also be launching a golf fantasy game online.

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