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Schedule conflicts pave way for NBC Sports takeover of USGA rights

A pandemic-fueled schedule conflict between the United States Golf Association and the National Football League has helped fuel a broad-based switch of the USGA’s domestic media rights from Fox Sports to NBC Sports, effective immediately.

The anticipated shift has been made official after Fox Sports looked for an early exit of its 12-year right deal running through 2026, which is worth a total of $1.1bn (€975m). NBC Sports will get rights for the remainder of this year as well as the final six years of the original contract.

According to multiple reports and industry sources, the Comcast-owned NBC Sports will pay slightly less than half of the average $93m annual rights fee (that has been paid by Fox), with Fox Sports picking up the rest and the USGA remaining whole from the terms of the original deal. 

Discussions of Fox’s rights exit began soon after event plans were finalized in April for the USGA’s US Open, one of golf’s majors, to move from its usual Father’s Day weekend slot of June 16-19 to September 17-20 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

That switch, in turn, created a direct scheduling conflict with Week 2 of the NFL’s 2020 season, with that football coverage forming part of what is the most-watched programming in all of American television, regardless of genre. Suggestions of moving the US Open from broadcast to FS1 on cable were quickly met with resistance.

Additional September programming commitments to Major League Baseball and college football created more issues for Fox Sports. Negotiations to strike a one-year deal for NBC Sports to essentially sublet some USGA rights quickly grew into the larger pact.

“Recent events calling for the shift of the US Open created scheduling challenges that were difficult to overcome,” said Eric Shanks, Fox Sports chief executive and executive producer. “While are proud of the success we’ve built over the years, this is a win for golf fans everywhere, a win for the USGA, and a win for Fox and NBC Sports.”

Though Fox Sports was able in recent years to improve upon its initially maligned golf production, the network was not able to amass more top-tier golf rights and the sport never fully found a home there, hastening the company’s desire to exit the USGA deal.

The shift will see NBC Sports properties broadcast not only the US Open, but three other USGA championships: the US Women’s Open, US Amateur, and US Women’s Amateur. In addition to NBC Sports’s broadcast, cable, and digital properties, the company will also incorporate its new over-the-top streaming network Peacock into its USGA coverage plans.

“Partnering with NBCUniversal, including Golf Channel, gives us an unparalleled opportunity to connect and engage with the core golf audience more directly and routinely, and as a nonprofit, to continue to have a significant and lasting impact upon the game,” said Mike Davis, USGA chief executive. 

NBC previously televised the US Open from 1995-2014, before Fox made a surprise move to gain the rights beginning in 2015. Many of the USGA’s key principals at the time that were involved in that deal have since moved on to other organizations, including current US Olympic Committee chief executive Sarah Hirshland and Major League Soccer deputy commissioner Gary Stevenson. 

NBC’s acquisition of the USGA rights adds to a golf stable that also includes the British Open, Ryder Cup, Players Championship, three World Golf Championships, and the President’s Cup, and will additionally have the FedEx Cup playoffs in alternating years as part of a new rights deal with the PGA Tour.

“Adding these prestigious USGA events to our already incredibly deep golf business positions us as absolute leaders in the golf space,” said Pete Bevacqua, NBC Sports Group president. “This deal is advantageous for all parties. It further solidifies our platforms as the destination for golf viewerships and enthusiasts.”