PGA Tour embraces ESPN+ in lucrative nine-year domestic rights deals

The PGA Tour has finalised nine-year domestic media rights deals with incumbent rights-holders CBS, the commercial network, and the Comcast-owned NBC Sports Group, while agreeing a landmark streaming deal with Disney’s ESPN+.

Through the agreements, the details of which were announced this morning (Monday), the PGA Tour has sold its digital rights separately to linear rights. As a result, PGA Tour Live, the Tour’s subscription OTT service, will be exclusively available on ESPN+ from 2022 onwards.

Nine-year deals with the trio of heavyweight broadcasters will run from 2022 to 2030 and will bring in around $700m (€603.7m) per year, around a 70-per-cent rise on the Tour’s current domestic deals, a source close to the matter told CNBC.

The separate digital rights package sold to ESPN will generate around $75m per year, it is reported.

Evolution Media Capital, an arm of the CAA agency, worked as the PGA Tour’s media adviser on the sales process.

CBS and NBC will retain weekend coverage of the majority of FedExCup tournaments, with CBS averaging 19 events and NBC offering eight events. The two networks will alternate in offering all three FedExCup Playoff events each year, beginning with NBC in 2022.

NBC Sports Group remains the cable partner of the Tour, allowing the Golf Channel to show early-round coverage and early-weekend coverage of every FedExCup event, along with the PGA Tour Champions and Korn Ferry Tour. The Tour and NBC Sports have also expanded their tie-up on content and programming.

In another departure from the current set-up, the PGA Tour is to assume responsibility of the on-site production area and technical infrastructure. This, the Tour said, will allow it to “more efficiently aggregate, distribute and develop content for its various platforms worldwide”.

Both CBS and NBC will continue to use their own production and commentary teams, led by their own producers, directors and production staff.

Under the digital rights agreement struck, PGA Tour Live on ESPN+ will stream over 4,000 hours of live content annually, offering coverage from 36 tournaments and with at least 28 events boasting four full days of output, including four simultaneous live feeds each day.

This will not be the first time that ESPN+ has shown the PGA Tour. Following its launch in 2018, the OTT service showed a portion of PGA Tour Live, which was then run by BAMTech, in which Disney had acquired a controlling stake. PGA Tour Live moved to NBC Sports Gold in 2019 in a three-year deal struck with NBCUniversal.

From 2022, PGA Tour Live will be available to ESPN+ subscribers as part of their base subscription.

The number of ESPN+ subscribers rose to 7.6 million last month. It is believed that many of the new subscribers have come via a new $12.99-per-month bundle for Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ which was offered to coincide with the launch of Disney+ (rather than the traditional $4.99-per-month offering for ESPN+ alone).

Commenting on the new long-term rights agreements, Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, said: “We were extremely pleased with the interest we received from the market – both with incumbents and other media companies – and are excited that our current partners shared our vision for the future, and we are equally excited to be back in business with Disney and ESPN+.

“These new deals will be a major win for our fans, bringing an elevated commitment from all three partners to help us expand and innovate our content and its delivery.”

He continued: “The nine-year deals will put us in a position to significantly increase player earnings, deliver more value to our tournaments and sponsors, and ultimately allow us to continue to grow our charitable footprint. Additionally, we are now able to reinvest in our sport in a way never before possible, including production, personnel and technology, and are well positioned to best serve and grow our fanbase in the years to come.”

ESPN already has rights to the US PGA Championship, one of golf’s four majors, in a deal that begins this year and runs until 2030. ESPN joined forces with CBS to sign the deal back in October 2018 and will have exclusive live coverage of the first and second rounds along with coverage of the morning of the third and final rounds. ESPN+ will stream the whole tournament.

At the start of the year, the PGA Tour announced an expansive agreement with social media platform Facebook to distribute daily highlight packages globally on Facebook Watch in 2020. The agreement includes daily round recaps and player-specific highlights from more than 30 events, including The Players Championship and FedExCup Playoffs.

LPGA Tour rights

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has negotiated new rights agreements for the LPGA Tour as part of its alliance with the women’s tour.

As a result, Golf Channel will continue to air the LPGA Tour and there will be “expanded exposure” for tournaments on NBC and CBS.

The PGA Tour said: “Specifically, the Tour secured the long-term extension of the LPGA/Golf Channel partnership (2022-2030) with ancillary programming, including a season preview, season review and Road to the CME Group Tour Championship.

“In addition, Golf Channel will provide dedicated programming for the Symetra Tour each year, as well as enhanced marketing and promotional assets and expanded benefits for LPGA sponsors.”

The LPGA has maintained the control of all of its media rights outside of the US market and will receive expanded digital content rights, the PGA Tour said.