US sports broadcast market heats up

21st Century Fox’s new national US sports channel FOX Sports 1 (launching August 17) has secured a 12-year broadcast rights deal to bring major golf to FOX Sports from 2015. The new agreement will see the FOX network and FOX Sports 1 become the principal domestic media partner of the USGA and the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open Championships, as well as the USGA’s national amateur championship.

This is the first-time that the FOX broadcast network will cover major championship golf.  The golf major will join other major sporting events on the FOX broadcast network including the Super Bowl, World Series, Daytona 500 and World Cup.

Under terms the agreement (which will run from 2015 to 2026), FOX Sports will deliver a total of 146 hours of championship golf, including a minimum of 70 cumulative hours of live event coverage of the three Opens (U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Senior Open Championships).  FOX Sports will also be home to the USGA’s national amateur championships and international team competitions, delivering a minimum of 76 hours of live broadcast coverage across its sports platforms, including FOX Sports 1.

FOX Sports Co-President and COO Eric Shanks said:

“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.”

The new deal is a blow to current US Open broadcasters ESPN and NBC Sports. Currently golf’s four majors are broadcast in the US by ESPN/CBS (the Masters), ESPN/NBC (US Open), ESPN (British Open) and PGA Championship (TNT/CBS).

The loss of a major golf championship for NBC means it will no longer have broadcast rights to any of golf’s four majors.  The Comcast-owned network has used its Golf Channel branding on its broadcast network coverage in recent years.  The loss of the US Open means that while the Golf Channel/NBC Sports will continue to broadcast the PGA Tour, it will no longer broadcast one of golf’s major events. This is similar to Fox Footy in Australia which broadcasts all AFL matches live except the Grand Final. It is not all bad news for NBC Sports though, with the announcement  earlier this year that it had secured a 10-year deal with NASCAR for exclusive rights to the final 20 Sprint Cup Series races. Of NBC Sports Group’s 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events, seven will be carried on NBC annually, with 13 airing on the NBC Sports Network. NBC also secured rights to 19 NASCAR Nationwide Series races.

For ESPN, the loss of US Open golf rights to its new competitor FOX Sports 1 will be disappointing for the sports broadcast giant. FOX Sports already has strong branding in the US with its various local FOX Sports channels, but the decision to launch a national FOX Sports 1 channel is designed to challenge ESPN’s position nationally.

The Disney-owned ESPN is now facing stiff competition for US sports rights, as 21st Century Fox and Comcast attempt to grow their domestic sports rights portfolio for their various US broadcast and cable channels. On the plus side, ESPN still has US broadcast rights to the US Masters and British Open, along with extensive grand slam tennis rights.

The new battle for sports rights between ESPN, FOX Sports 1 and NBC Sports Network will be music to the ears of sporting bodies as they continue to try to maximise broadcast revenue.

For Australian sporting bodies watching the rights market in the US, the difference in Australia is that the competitive tension between subscription-TV sports channels does not exist. The dominant subscription-TV sports broadcaster is News Corp Australia’s Fox Sports, with international players such as ESPN, Setanta and Eurosport having little or no local content. Fox Sports Australia’s major competitors are the free-to-air networks, but the market is affected by the Anti-siphoning regime, which limits FOX Sports Australia’s ability to acquire broadcast rights to the most popular sporting events.

It will be interesting to watch the US sports broadcast market and how it is affected by the arrival of Fox Sports 1. The response by ESPN and NBC Sports Network to their new national competitor will be fascinating.


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