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Fox Makes Ad Headway in Year 2 of U.S. Open Golf Deal

When the 2016 U.S. Open Golf Championship tees off in Oakmont, Pa. on June 16 on FS1 and Fox, the telecasts will be loaded up with nearly 20 new advertisers who’ve come on board since the network’s golf debut last year.

The network paid $1.2 billion for 12 years of rights to USGA tournaments, highlighted by the Open. Ratings were not spectacular, and the telecasts were criticized in some quarters.

This year, the announcing crew has been tweaked and new advertisers will include freshly minted USGA sponsor Deloitte, which will join the USGA’s other four major sponsors, American Express, Rolex, Lexus and IBM. Other major brands advertising in this year’s Open will include Anheuser-Busch, Pfizer and Microsoft, along with golf industry mainstays Titleist and Callaway.

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Mark Evans, senior VP of sports sales at Fox, says Deloitte will launch a major marketing campaign during the telecasts and will also sponsor a new feature within the coverage. He says he’s not authorized to disclose all the new advertisers, but adds that many of them are not endemic to golf coverage.

Neil Mulcahy, executive VP of sports sales at Fox, adds that there are more brands looking to reach the professional golf audience for the first time, and some brands are looking to advertise in the early rounds for Father’s Day which is on Sunday, June 19, the final day of the four-day telecast.

Mulcahy says the four-days of telecasts on Fox and FS1 are “very well sold” with a few units left for the Saturday, June 18 and Sunday, June 19 rounds. Strongest categories include automotive, insurance, pharmaceuticals, and technology.

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Evans says advertisers bought time based on ratings guarantees for the four days of coverage, but there are some who bought packages that include Fox’s upcoming coverage of three other USGA events — Men’s Senior Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Amateur Championship — who will get a single ratings guarantee across all of them.

Evans adds that the Fox Sports sales team, now in its second year of selling the USGA package, has “done a better, more effective job of selling” the telecasts and have sold more total ad revenue than last year for the Open at this point.

Golf telecast numbers overall across networks continue to decline, particularly with Tiger Woods missing more tournaments because of injuries, however, the emergence of new stars like last year’s Open winner Jordan Spieth, as well as Rory McElroy and Jason Day, are bringing in a newer and younger audience. And more marketers seem to want to be a part of it, regardless of the ratings.

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Last year’s U.S. Open final on Fox averaged 6.7 million viewers, which was up 46% over the previous year, however that 2014 telecast on NBC was not in primetime as Fox’s was last year, so the comparison is skewed. Comparing it to the 2012 final round, the last time the Open was televised from the West Coast in primetime, it was down 30% from 9.6 million.

Last year’s Open coverage on Fox broadcast network averaged 4.8 million viewers across four days and the combined coverage on both Fox and FS1 averaged 3.5 million.

Evans says the strong play of the “young guns” on the pro tour is resonating with audiences and marketers. He believes despite the absence of Woods in this year’s Open (he is recovering from injury) more viewers will tune in. Woods did play in last year’s Open but failed to make the cut after two days of play.

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Paul Azinger, a 12-time winner on the PGA tour, is replacing Greg Norman as Fox’s primary golf analyst during the coverage. Azinger previously did golf analysis for ABC and ESPN and he is reuniting with Fox coordinating producer for golf coverage Mark Loomis, who he worked with at ABC/ESPN previously.

Fox won the rights to the four USGA tournaments away from NBC and ESPN by paying some $1.2 billion over 12 years, or $100 million per year. That compares to the reported $37 million per year combined that NBC and ESPN were paying.

Fox will introduce new tech initiatives during the four days of coverage in conjunction with its new Fox Lab, the unit designed to explore technical partnerships that give viewers a fresh perspective on the viewing experience.

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Fox will again use aerial drone cameras for early morning course flyovers, scenic shots and hole mapping. And it will have microphones on all 18 holes to capture audio conversations between the players and their caddies. The coverage will also include Protracer ball tracing technology, and Trackman technology that will provide data on clubhead speed and ball speed. Fox will also employ green shading technology which will give viewers a detailed look of the terrain and how it might impact play.

Evans say Deloitte will sponsor the audio conversations between the players and their caddies when that feature is used during the telecasts.

Coverage of the Open from Oakmont Country Club will begin on Thursday, June 16 at 10 a.m. on FS1 that will run until 5. Fox will pick up coverage from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The same schedule will be followed on Friday June 17.

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On Saturday, June 18, Fox will televise the Open exclusively on the broadcast side from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. and on Sunday, June 19, Fox will again televise from 11 a.m. until conclusion.

If there is a playoff, it will be held on Monday, June 20, beginning at noon on Fox. Evans says deals with some marketers include a guaranteed number of ad units in Monday’s telecast should there be one.