AP: FOX Asks Out Of USGA Contract, NBC To Pick Up Remaining Seven Years

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AP’s Doug Ferguson reports that Fox Sports has “asked to end” its 12-year USGA contract and, over the last two weeks, a deal was ironed out.

Andrew Marchand of the News Corp-owned New York Post, confirmed the news in a Tweet. An announcement is expected Monday.

From Ferguson’s story, the pandemic appears to have played a role:

One person said NBC would pay for just under half of the rights fee through the rest of the contract.

Two other people said the deal began to take shape this month, especially with the U.S. Open being moved to September during the opening month of the NFL.

One person said Fox was contemplating moving the U.S. Open to FS1, an idea that was rebuffed by Mike Davis, the CEO of the USGA. That led to deeper conversations about the contract and how it could be resolved.

Fox famously secured the rights starting in 2015 after the USGA enjoyed a successful run with NBC and ESPN. While Fox predictably struggled early with production elements, marketing and finding the right announcer mix, they eventually delivered the broadcast innovation, strong production valus and a cohesive announce team at the last few U.S. Open’s, with very strong efforts at the last two U.S. Opens where sound, visuals and the broadcasters excelled.

No Laying Up noted this:

Genuinely bummed about the Fox/NBC US Open news. They were an innovator in the golf broadcast game. Had made huge strides year over year and inspired changes at the other networks.

The news broke as we were recording, reactions will be on the pod in a few hours.

— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) June 29, 2020

The greater issue may have been a combination of economics, scheduling and the pending NFL rights deal. As Ferguson’s story notes, this fall’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot—if it goes forward—was going to be largely buried on Fox Sports 1, the cable network that motivated Fox’s excessive spend in the first place.

Financially, someone is taking a hit, but NBC does not appear to be that party. From the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint:

While Fox’s agreement with the USGA still had several years left to run, the network negotiated to unload the rest of its deal to NBC, which also owns the Golf Channel and has rights to the PGA Tour https://t.co/LQ6WQUslkZ via @WSJ

— Joe Flint (@JBFlint) June 29, 2020

Monday’s announcement following Sunday night’s orchestrated rollout to media should shed light on where other USGA events and early round coverage will land. We might also learn more about what precisely prompted the parties involved to work out the deal now. But if Ferguson and Flint are correct, FOX will be paying a significant amount of money annually to not televise USGA events.

Ultimately, however, the deal is a monster failure that should haunt the careers of Sarah Hirshland (now head of the U.S. Olympic Committee) and then-USGA president Glen Nager (since seen suing the United States). I’d probably include former USGA President Tom O’Toole in there too while we’re throwing monster point-missers under the bus.

For some background on the deal when it went down, I’d point you to the late, great Frank Hannigan’s Letter to this website back in September, 2013, which considers the issues involved in a USGA television negotiation.

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