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Perfect Complements

By Ron Sirak Photos by Getty Images
October 10, 2013

NBC will broadcast next year's Ryder Cup and eight more as part of a new deal.

In virtually every way, it is a match made in heaven. Walk into any pro shop or grill room in America and the chances are good the TV is turned to Golf Channel. And just as likely, the person behind the cash register in that pro shop is a PGA of America member.

There cannot be two entities whose constituencies overlap as perfectly. Both Golf Channel and PGA of America members live and breathe the game of golf. If the 27,000 PGA of America professionals are the boots on the ground for the game, bringing golf to passionate players at both public and private facilities, Golf Channel gives that passion a voice.

And, in a new deal, that marriage is not just set through 2030, but it moves forward with a re-energized commitment to use Golf Channel, NBC and the entire Comcast family to not just televise the game, but to celebrate it, analyze it and, ultimately, grow it.

"Golf Channel is truly the daily broadcast voice of golf," PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua told in discussing the arrangement that keeps the Ryder Cup on NBC through 2030.

"We are really the people who connect the game to the people who play it," Bevacqua said of his organization of club and teaching professionals. "So this marriage of these two entities is really exciting," he said. "In every way, this will tap into the expertise of our members, which will help the every day player, and enhance the stature of PGA of America members."

And if location is the key to determining the value of real estate, timing is the lynchpin when it comes to selling sports content.  While Bevacqua says talks with NBC began last December, he also admits they gained speed after NBC lost the U.S. Open to FOX in August.

Certainly the presence of a new bidder in the form of FOX -- which will make its debut televising golf in the United States in 2015 -- helped the finances, which Bevacqua would not discuss, as did the fact that both NBC and FOX have created all-sports networks to compete with ESPN.

But in Golf Channel, the PGA of America has a broadcast partner unlike any other in that it is the only station dedicated entirely to golf.

"It never got to that point," Bevacqua says when asked if there were other suitors for the Ryder Cup. "We had such a comfort level with NBC [which has had the Ryder Cup since 1991]. It made so much sense in terms of what we can do as partners to serve our members and grow the game. It just became a very easy decision."

The five most valuable properties in golf are the four men's major championships and the Ryder Cup. The PGA of America is the only organization that owns more than one.

Now NBC, which lost the U.S. Open to the $93 million a year bid by FOX, has locked up the Ryder Cup through 2030, when Tiger Woods will be 54 years old and perhaps a captain of the U.S. team.

While no one will attach a dollar figure to this deal, one insider said, "The money is there, and it is significant." In 2012, the Ryder Cup was televised to nearly 500 million households globally.   One of the most compelling things about the Ryder Cup is that it has probably the greatest growth potential in that it has an identity very different from the 72-hole, stroke play of the four majors.

"The Ryder Cup is really a different kind of event," says Bevacqua. "It's an event that transcends the game. There is the team format, match play, the nationalism and patriotism that comes into it."

And with the recent domination of the Ryder Cup by Europe, the competition has taken on an added sense of urgency, growing dramatically over the last 25 years.

"The conversation about the Ryder Cup with NBC was easy," Bevacqua says, "but then we had to talk about what else we can do. And the combination of the only 24/7 golf channel and the huge platforms for cross-promotion provided by NBC and the Comcast family provided endless opportunities."

While there were those in the USGA who viewed Golf Channel as preaching to the converted, the PGA of America sees it as reaching its core consumer. And it views the NBC/Comcast platform as an enormously powerful cross-promotional vehicle.

"We are not only going to talk about 'Get Golf Ready' during the Ryder Cup or on Golf Channel, but we are going to use the power and breadth and scope of the NBC/Comcast family to tap into programming watched by women or watched by children," Bevacqua says. "That is exciting."

Expect to see a much greater PGA of America presence on Golf Channel and don't be surprised if a television studio is built in the PGA's Palm Beach Gardens headquarters to make it easier for its members and officials to appear on Golf Channel.

"We are going to do everything we can so we can use the PGA of America professional as the experts to talk about instruction, equipment, rules so we can elevate and re-establish the role of the PGA of America professional in this game."

With the new deal, which will greatly amp up Ryder Cup coverage, the Senior PGA Championship continues on Golf Channel and NBC through 2030 and the PGA Professional National Championship remains on Golf Channel.   "We're excited to continue our longstanding relationship with The PGA of America and renew the Ryder Cup, one of the most prestigious properties in sports, through 2030," says NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus. "This multi-platform agreement allows our broadcast, cable, digital and regional platforms to work with the PGA on their prestigious events and important initiatives."   For Bevacqua, the Ryder Cup deal is about more than the Ryder Cup and the PGA of America appears to have leveraged its value beautifully.   "The non-tournament programming is a huge part of this deal," says Bevacqua. "Teaching the game, tips, drawing on the expertise of PGA of America members at venues where the tours are playing. There are ways we can enhance the coverage. How can we create more Michael Breeds not only on a national level by a regional level?" Bevacqua says about the popular instructor on Golf Channel.

"We have an unbelievable relationship with CBS and Turner [for the PGA Championship], but there is only one channel out there talking 24/7 about golf. The lives of our members are consumed by golf every hour of every day. Golf Channel is the only broadcast partner that does that."

And now that relationship is guaranteed through 2030.