Several aspects of CBS and ESPN's new 11-year multimedia deal for the PGA Championship demonstrate how we could be watching sports on TV in the future. 

By Jacob Feldman
October 12, 2018

What is there to say about a new, 11-year PGA Championship TV contract? A lot, it turns out. According to the deal, announced publicly on Wednesday, CBS will continue its coverage of the third and fourth rounds, adding an extra hour of airtime, while ESPN and ESPN+ will replace Turner Sports in the partnership, providing exclusive live coverage of the first and second rounds of the event, starting in 2020.

While the biggest story might be who isn’t getting the rights to the golf major—no Amazon, no Facebook—plenty of elements in the deal still point towards the future of sports on TV. Here are a few...


Six months ago, ESPN executive VP of programming Burke Magnus would have been surprised to learn that his network would land the PGA Championship. But during negotiations this summer, Turner Sports was not as aggressive as others expected, meaning the 2019 PGA Championship will be the final one on TNT for the foreseeable future. With Turner now owned by AT&T, each rights decision gives us a little more information about the company’s priorities.

Meanwhile, the two broadcasters that will carry the tournament starting in 2020—ESPN and CBS—are under new leadership themselves. This is one of the biggest deals signed under Jimmy Pitaro at ESPN, along with a five-year UFC contract announced this May. Clearly, collecting live rights is a priority at the company, especially for marquee events. “If they hand out a trophy at the end of it, we’re interest in carrying it,” Magnus told SportsBusiness Daily. Meanwhile, CBS renewing its partnership with the PGA, which dates back to 1991, “is indicative of the fact that sports are going to remain a very important part of the CBS Corporation” under interim CEO Joseph Ianniello, according to CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus.


What a nice half-birthday present for ESPN’s $5/month service. While golf may not fit with the technically adept audience streaming services often target, Magnus said ESPN’s strategy is based on getting “the biggest and best events” they can for the digital portfolio rather than specifically targeting younger demographics.

The PGA considered splitting off the over-the-top component and selling it to a Silicon Valley company, but opted instead for the proven sports company that can promote the event across TV and apps.

ESPN+ will carry coverage of the tournament from Thursday through Sunday, with featured groups, hole-specific coverage, and whatever else ESPN thinks of next, while CBS handles the traditional coverage down the stretch. Specifically, Magnus alluded to ESPN’s recent statcast for the NL wild card game as the kind of option that could come to the course. McManus said he’s not worried about those alternatives taking viewership away from his broadcast.


Changing the tournament’s date from August to the weekend before Memorial Day beginning in 2019 started as a retreat, says PGA chief commercial officer Jeff Price. Executives didn’t want to have to deal with the Olympics disrupting the schedule every four years and were looking to separate from the FedEx Playoffs, which are moving to the late-summer month.

Moving to May and becoming the second major of the year turned out to be “good for the game, for the players, and for the fans,” Price said. It’s also good for the broadcasters. “That was a big motivating factor for us,” Magnus said of the schedule change. CBS and ESPN, which also broadcast the Masters together, will be able to use that event to promo this one. It will also come soon after the NFL draft and during the NBA playoffs. “There will be lots of eyeballs tuned into ESPN,” Magnus said. “It fit perfectly into that schedule.”

Rather than trying to own a dead period, the event will attempt to garner your attention while you’re already watching TV, even if the competition is more crowded.


While I’ve got my calendar out…

It’s a bit surprising to see anyone in media commit to an 11-year endeavor in this rapidly changing environment. But the broadcasters are happy to do so, locking in valuable rights before tech companies really begin disrupting the industry (the PGA retained syndication rights to potentially put a feed on Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

“There’s no question the media landscape will evolve but we will evolve together,” Price said. “That’s the beauty of the long-term deal. We don’t have to worry about the underpinnings of the championship and the production. Things will change and we as partners will figure it out.”

Part of that future-proofing is a contract lacking in gambling-related restrictions for the broadcasters. While other leagues prevent networks from discussing lines, the PGA wanted to give CBS and ESPN the opportunity to experiment, in time. Ensuring integrity comes first, Price said, but “then we can begin to explore how we can get more fans interested and engaged.”


According to McManus, CBS valued the PGA based on its rating performances over the five years before the 2018 tournament, none of which featured a top 10 finish for Woods. That means the bump a competitive Woods might provide (potentially a 100% ratings increase) will all be bonus for the network. Notably, even without factoring Woods in, CBS and ESPN are rumored to have offered the PGA three times what it previously got from CBS/Turner.

Once Tiger moves on, whenever that happens, the PGA is hopeful that its broadcast partners can capitalize on the association’s juniors tournament (the latest event held up as possibly the next Little League World Series) as well as the unique element provided by the 20 course pros from around the country who earn a spot in the otherwise loaded field.

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