Fox Sports Grabs Rights to Golf’s U.S. Open

High bid displaces NBC Sports, ESPN

On the eve of the launch of its 24/7 cable network, Fox Sports has nailed down the broadcast rights to the U.S. Open, the second of the four major golf championship tournaments. 

The deal, which kicks in approximately 22 months after the launch of Fox Sports 1, marks the first time Fox Sports has secured the rights to one of golf’s majors. The Masters starts the cycle on ESPN/CBS, the Open is in June, the British Open tees off in July (ESPN) and the PGA Championship (TNT/CBS) rounds off the majors in August.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although insiders on Wednesday night said that Fox Sports paid a significant premium over the $40 million fee the United States Golf Association charged ESPN and NBC Sports. (Conservative estimates have Fox paying more than double that amount.)

The 12-year pact will bring Fox its first USGA major in June 2015.

The deal offers further proof that Fox is going to do everthing it can to bolster its already deep sports roster. It is also a wake-up call of sorts for NBC Sports and the Golf Channel, as it wrests the last major out of the Peacock’s clutches.

Golf Channel in 2015 will also forfeit stewardship of the U.S. Amateur and the Women’s Amateur championships. Meanwhile, ESPN will be shut out of telecasting the opening rounds of the U.S. Open.

The Fox deal runs through 2026.

With precious few tent pole properties available, Fox Sports has been particularly aggressive in rounding up live, DVR-proof content designed to topple ESPN from its pedestal. FS1 launches on Aug. 17.

“We’re looking forward to becoming the home to the preeminent golf championship in the world,” said Fox Sports co-president and COO Eric Shanks, by way of announcing the deal. “We’re committed to elevating coverage of USGA events on every level, infusing them with a new energy and innovation that will make every championship the best golf event on television.”

While the relatively staid pursuit that is golf may not immediately seem like a perfect fit for a sports group that has prided itself on its affiliation with Cleatus, the Fox NFL Sunday Robot and Terry Paxton Bradshaw, buyers say the move to Fox could help draw younger enthusiasts.

“Maybe it won’t be a Tiger [Woods] phenomenon where you see the demos shift quite a bit as more people begin to catch on to the thrill of seeing a guy play the way he did, but I can see Fox going a long way toward making the game more interesting for younger viewers,” said one sports buyer. 

NBC’s veteran golf analyst Johnny Miller told the Associated Press that losing the U.S. Open was a “big bummer.” Miller added that he was particularly disappointed that the USGA effectively decided that “money was more important than basically a good golf crew.”

NBC has broadcast the U.S. Open since 1995.

While the loss of the Open is a blow to NBC, the network was sanguine in its response to the news. “The combination of NBC and Golf Channel will continue to be the dominant voice in golf coverage going forward,” NBC Sports said in a statement. “We’ve enjoyed our 19-year relationship with the USGA, and will continue to serve the golf fan every day.”

ESPN also released a statement, saying, “We’ve had a rewarding relationship with the USGA. We look forward to televising the U.S. Open and other USGA championships in 2014 and wish them the best in the future.”

While opportunities to seize marquee sports rights are few and far between, the next great battle is expected to erupt over the NBA packages, which expire at the end of the 2015-16 season.

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