Turner Sports and PGA Tour Digitally Part Ways

PGA Tour plans mobile initiatives, simulcasts with network broadcast partners

After six years, Turner Sports and the PGA Tour will move separate ways and end their digital partnership, effective at the end of the year.

Both sides stressed that the partnership’s close is the result of separately evolving digital strategies and emphasized that the decision to conclude business was part of a collaborative process.

“Our strategy has evolved to be multiscreen and multiplatform, and our recent partnerships such as that with the NBA and the PGA of America (a separate entity from the PGA Tour) allow us to offer fans, distributors and sponsors some amazing experiences across new platforms,” said Matt Hong, svp and gm of operations for Turner Sports.

The split with the PGA marks the third such digital breakup for Turner this year. Last January, Turner gave digital platform control back to Nascar but retained rights to handle digital ad sales for Nascar through 2016. And just recently, Turner and Sports Illustrated ended their digital ad sales agreement. In the case of the PGA Tour announcement, PGA Tour will directly control all sales operations, meaning that suddenly Turner's digital sports footprint has begun shrinking considerably.

On that note, the news of the PGA partnership’s end comes just days after reports began to circulate that Turner is in talks to buy San Francisco-based sports site Bleacher Report. While today’s announcement—as well as the changes in Turner’s digital relationship with Nascar—may add fuel to the rumors that Turner is gearing up for an acquisition. A source familiar with the matter confirmed the talks but noted that even though there is interest and discussion, any report that a deal is imminent or soon is overstated.

While the departure allows Turner freedom to pursue new multiplatform digital strategies and continue its partnerships with organizations like the NBA and NCAA, the PGA Tour will be free to experiment with some new autonomy in the space. “We’re in a much different place than we were in 2006,” said Lee Bushkell, vp of media sales for PGA Tour digital. “We’ve all seen rapid change in the landscape as well as growth and importance of digital platforms. Even with a great venture partner like Turner, the sensible decision for us was to have 100 percent control and responsibility.”

For the PGA Tour this will mean some notable innovations and agreements with broadcasters to provide simulcasts of tournaments across multiple digital platforms. The PGA Tour has also recently approved the use of cellphones and electronic devices at tournaments. “For us, mobile is a key part of the fan experience,” Bushkell said.

Going forward, the PGA will be working with vendors and system integrators to build the guts of their digital platforms and will be completely revamping their sales side. “We have a group that internally sells media, and we will add resources to that group, working directly and increasing our presence with clients and agencies,” said PGA Tour svp of strategic development of digital media entertainment Paul Johnson. The PGA Tour will also begin staffing nationally and opening offices in places like New York in order to go to markets and help spread the brand to golf fans across the country.