Golf Channel Sinks PGA Tour Rights

The Golf Channel president David Manougian called last week’s rights deal that made the Comcast Corp.-owned network the exclusive cable home of the PGA Tour “an eagle.”

Under a 15-year pact that takes effect next year, Golf — now in some 70 million households — will become the PGA’s biggest TV partner, with 15 full four-round events. Golf also will provide first- and second-round PGA Tour coverage on Thursday and Fridays for 33 other events, setting up weekend action on CBS, which has expanded from 16 tourneys to 19, and NBC, which has doubled its annual count to 10.

The broadcast-network deals cover the 2007-12 seasons.

“This is the next step for the channel and the building of this brand,” Manougian said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to improve our position with affiliates, advertisers and viewers.”

He said Golf also sunk a new pact with the PGA for the Nationwide (qualifying) Tour, whose contract expires after the 2006 season, and extended its commitment with the Champions (senior) Tour for 13 more years.

Manougian said Golf’s affiliates would not bear the brunt of the rights fees, which he declined to disclose.

“It’s not our intention to go to [affiliates] for increased fees,” he said.

Many of Golf’s carriage deals run for four to six years, and the agreements don’t provide for fee escalators after acquiring product, Manougian said. “We hope to sit down with our affiliates and show them how we’ve enhanced our product and see if we can increase our distribution.”

Golf gains the ability to migrate other tournament coverage to other Comcast platforms. But Manougian said a shift “would be to provide relief to our schedule” relative to conflicts, “as opposed to strategically place the events.”

Some analysts have wondered if a new PGA deal would provide content that would help Comcast reseed OLN or launch a national sports service.

The PGA will say goodbye to USA Network and ESPN/ABC next year. All of the sport’s current carriers have indicated they have sustained losses on the current contract, valued collectively at some $850 million from 2003-06.

With USA and the Disney services pulling out, many TV sports executives believe the PGA had to increase the number of years and revamp its schedule in order to extract a rights increase.