News & Opinion

Tour, Discovery make global digital deal

Golf is one of the most traditional sports, but on Monday it made a major leap into digital reality. The PGA Tour and Discovery announced a 12-year strategic alliance for global TV and multi-platform live rights outside of the U.S.

The $2 billion deal, which expands the PGA Tour international foothold starting in 2019, includes linear coverage of nearly 2,000 hours of content per year. All tours under the PGA Tour umbrella and more than 140 tournaments annually provide the appetizer to a new over the top, or OTT, service that eventually will be available worldwide, with the exception of the U.S.

Discovery, a Fortune 500 media company based in Silver Spring, Md., operates such networks as Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Food Network and HGTV.

Those were the highlights of the announcement and subsequent news conference by the PGA Tour and Discovery brass in New York.

The details of the announced service were less than forthcoming and created many more questions than answers on the future of PGA Tour coverage globally, including what the name of the new OTT service will be called.

What is very clear is that any additional exposure for golf internationally is beneficial to the sport and those involved in the game from manufactures, sponsors, rightsholders and players. Any additional exposure for the PGA Tour would be advantageous to the Tour’s brand and players.

But, what does this agreement mean for the PGA Tour’s upcoming domestic TV rights negotiations, which expire in 2021?

Or, how will a $2 billion investment in the OTT offering internationally eventually translate in a U.S. product that will clearly be less robust in the short term?

The PGA Tour’s only OTT offering is PGA Tour Live, a subscription service that focuses on live coverage of the marquee groups on Thursday and Friday for $5.99 a month or $39.99 annually.

With an archive of PGA Tour coverage sitting at the Tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., the new OTT service outlined in the partnership could provide more golf coverage for fans, but would it be made available a la carte?

One immediate expansion of international coverage under the agreement was outlined by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan: expanding the availability of PGA Tour Live into the United Kingdom starting in 2019.

A telling sign of Discovery’s goal for this new service was the six times that Discovery chief executive David Zaslav mentioned creating a golf channel internationally.

In a separate e-mail exchange with Rick Anderson, the PGA Tour’s executive vice president for TV and digital media, after the news conference, some of the questions that I posed were answered and some will have to wait for another day:

Alex Miceli: With this offering, the OTT offering internationally will be a much more robust product than in the US. What are the plans to beef up the OTT product in the U.S. and would it be part of the MLBAM [Major League Baseball Advanced Media] relationship or beyond?

Rick Anderson: The OTT platform outside the U.S. will include all of the rights of the current PGA Tour Live product, plus all of the Tour’s full broadcast rights in key markets where they are available. As the Tour’s media-rights deals come up for renewal in the coming years, this OTT platform becomes yet another option for distribution. In terms of the U.S. OTT product, we will continue to operate this service under the PGA Tour Live brand, and under the current media-rights structure with Golf Channel, NBC and CBS until these deals are up in 2021. We will have some exciting news related to PGA Tour Live in the U.S., which we plan to announce in the coming months.

AM: Does this announcement have any impact on the TV discussions for future TV rights?

RA: No. This announcement will not impact our business or media-rights structure in the U.S. All of our media-rights deals in the U.S. go through 2021, and our partnerships with Golf Channel/NBC and CBS continue to be extremely important for us.  

AM: Will the new OTT product be subscription-based only or also ad-supported?

RA: Subscription/direct-to-consumer will be the core focus, but we will also be distributing a lot of content for free (both live and non-live), so we will be actively providing opportunities for key sponsors and brands who want to reach this valuable audience.

AM: Since the USGA and PGA of America already had contacted Jay Monahan to wish him good luck, does he see a time that these organizations may be part of the OTT network internationally?

RA: Yes. This OTT platform is designed to provide a “Home of Golf” proposition for the golf fan, so we will actively be discussing media rights and content opportunities with the other golf organizations and tours.

AM: Are the substantial PGA Tour archives going to be used in this new OTT product, and will viewers be able to pull up any content from previous tournaments on their own?

RA: The Tour’s legacy archive rights are also a part of this deal, so while live and current golf is the focus, there may be opportunities to provide compelling video and product experiences based on archive content and programming.

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli