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Golf Channel, NBC Tee Off As Playing Partners At WGC Tourney

While the players go head to head at the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play Championships in Marana, Arizona this week, Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be working side by side.

The networks, now paired under NBC Sports Group as part of Comcast's NBC Universal joint venture that was finalized last month, will team as playing partners with the 64-man Feb. 23-27 tournament via graphics, promotion, production and on-air talent.

"One of the greatest attributes of NBCU is its culture of collaboration. We want to use promotional capabilities and talent to help grow Golf Channel," said network president Mike McCarley. He noted the WGC event is the first time NBC Sports Group is truly marshaling myriad assets on and off the air to emphasize the cable network and therebranding of PGA Tour broadcasts as "Golf Channel on NBC." Golf Channel controls exclusive cable rights to Thursday and Friday coverage of the PGA Tour, while NBC holds broadcast rights to 10 events, including the next six on the sport's "southern swing."

"There are very few channels whose name delivers exactly what the brand promises. Beginning with Arnold Palmer and Joe Gibbs 16 years ago, Golf Channel has built a strong brand by covering the sport with passion and authenticity, which made re-branding all NBC Sports golf coverage as ‘Golf Channel on NBC' an easy decision," said NBC Sports Group chairman Dick Ebersol. "Our plan is to grow Golf Channel by exposing it to new viewers through the broad reach of the network and the unprecedented cross-promotional power of NBCUniversal."

Since the closing of the JV transaction on Jan. 28, the channel has been running five-second IDs alerting: "You're watching the Golf Channel, now powered by NBC Sports."

Golf Channel's new morning show Morning Drive, has added a CNBC business report, featuring Nicole Lapin.
"The audiences between CNBC and the Golf Channel are very similar, very affluent, very influential hard-to-reach C-suite executives," said McCarley, who had been senior vice president for strategic marketing, promotion and communications for NBC Sports. He noted that given the audience composition affinity, "joint advertising sales opportunities" are now available for Golf Channel, NBC's golf coverage and the business network.

According to McCarley, this week's WGC event is benefiting from NBCU cross-channel prioritization, which began the weekend of Feb. 14-16 and will continue with promos and banners across 20 NBCU networks and 40 attendant websites, respectively, through tourney's end.

Those synergies aside, WGC will reflect the start of much larger connections. Morning Drive will add 60 minutes on Feb. 23 and a half hour on Feb. 24-25 to serve as lead-ins to Golf's tourney coverage, while news show Golf Central will wrap the tournament coverage daily.

Per usual, Golf has Wednesday to Friday coverage of the match play action, but will step onto its weekend course for first time, leading into NBC's eight hours on Saturday and Sunday. McCarley said the weekend lead-in will become a staple of Golf's scheduling during the balance of NBC's tour coverage in 2011 and beyond. The cable network will also encore NBC's WGC coverage in primetime on the weekend.

NBC's Emmy Award-winning producer Tommy Roy will helm all five rounds on both networks.

The broadcaster's weekend airings will be the first to sport the Golf Channel on NBC appellation and graphics package.

Without government approval of the merger, McCarley said parties could not work together. However during the transition period last fall he and NBC's graphics team were working on a new look for the broadcast network's coverage.

"What they came up with was very similar to what Golf was developing, so the ultimate decision was to use Golf Channel's graphics package," he said.

Hence, NBC is adopting Golf's signature blue and silver coloring and incorporating the cable channel's "G" and NBC's famed Peacock on the leaderboard and other on-air elements.
The morphing of NBC on Golf will also manifest with on-air talent sporting the "G" over the heart on their shirts and caps, while the Peacock is perched on the sleeve, according to McCarley.

Golf Channel will have an imbedded social media blogger on site at WGC-Accenture for the length of the tournament, providing info and commentary for the networks' Facebook and twitter pages, as well as NBC Sports and Versus, when appropriate.

Perhaps the biggest showcase for the nets' expanded field will come via a Golf Central special at 8:30 p.m. on Friday Feb. 25. State of the Game Live will showcase NBC's Dan Hicks, Johnny Miller and Roger Maltbie discussing the sport with Golf's Brandel Chamblee, Frank Nobilo and Nick Faldo. The group will dissect the WGC action, the status of one Eldrick Woods, and  the emergence of European stars and their impact on the PGA Tour, among other topics.

"This is a unique golf-television event that for the first time brings together the two premiere voices in the game...Johnny Miller, who I have had a special relationship with for many years, and Nick Faldo," said Ebersol. "Beyond all of their credentials on the course, their voices always resonate with fans on the significant issues that affect the game. Our goal is to utilize our combined assets for more events such as this in the future."

Noted McCarley. "We will all be working very closely together over the next six weeks and with Tommy Roy producing I'm sure we're going to come up with plenty of ideas."

Asked whether Golf talent will appear on NBC's PGA telecasts, McCarley replied: "We're trying to use Golf's talent in as many ways as possible. Ultimately, the goal is to use the talent in multiple ways on both channels in any time slot."