Golf Channel Signs Rights Pact With LPGA Tour

Golf Channel on Wednesday signed a rights deal with the LPGA Tour that establishes the Comcast-owned network as the exclusive cable home of women’s golf through 2020.

Although financial terms were not disclosed, the 10-year pact establishes the LPGA as the only women’s pro sports association to receive a rights fee agreement. The LPGA’s broadcast network deals (NBC, CBS, ABC) are time-buys; in other words, the league pays for the airtime and then tries to recoup its investment by selling advertising during each broadcast.

With production costs factored in, a time-buy can cost the LPGA as much as $1.7 million per event.

Per terms of the deal, Golf Channel will carry third- and fourth-round coverage of domestic events, including one major championship. (The final round of last year’s major, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, drew 640,000 viewers to Golf Channel on June 8.) The network will also carry early-round coverage of events that will be picked up for weekend coverage on other networks.

“Our long-term goal has been to establish a consistent platform for LPGA viewership, improve the production quality of our telecasts and enhance the season-long promotion of our players and events,” said LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens. “We were able to achieve this through our partnership with Golf Channel.”

Golf’s new LPGA agreement kicks in at the top of the 2010 season. This year, the network will televise competition from 14 LPGA tournaments, including the McDonald’s Championship event and The Solheim Cup, an international competition analogous to the PGA’s Ryder Cup.

NBC served up the LPGA’s biggest ratings of the 2008 season, as the final round of the U.S. Women’s Open delivered 1.98 million viewers on June 29, per Nielsen data. Meanwhile, the organization’s other cable partner, ESPN2, picked up its best LPGA delivery of the year back on May 4, as 730,000 viewers tuned in for the closing round of the SemGroup Championship.

Earlier this week, Golf Channel named ABC Sports mainstay Jack Graham vp, golf events and executive producer. In his new role, Graham will oversee the network’s live golf coverage, reporting to Tom Stathakes, senior vp of programming, production and operations.