<
>

New broadcast deal includes Web focus

NORTON, Mass. -- Citing projections of more than 80 million tablet users in the U.S. by 2015, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said on Thursday that the tour would begin simulcasting its tournaments when its new TV contract begins with CBS, NBC and the Golf Channel in 2013.

In a press conference at the Deutsche Bank Championship with CBS Sports president Sean McManus and NBC Sports Group president Mark Lazarus, Finchem announced that the PGA Tour has agreed to long-term extensions with the two networks. When the current deal ends at the end of 2012, the networks will begin a new agreement with the tour at the beginning of '13 that runs through 2021.

CBS will continue to do approximately 20 events and 130 live hours and NBC will have 10 events and 75 hours.

While financial terms were not disclosed, the parties gave some indication that it would be a profitable deal for all the parties.

"We'll grow," said Finchem, who is in his 18th year on the job. "We'll be comfortable. It won't be an Everest-type growth path, but we'll be fine."

In 2013, there will be simulcast coverage on CBSsports.com, NBCsports.com and Golfchannel.com. Fans will be able to see additional holes, marquee groups, statistical highlights and updates. Through the partnership between NBC and the Golf Channel, Finchem said the tour would also experiment with offering live coverage on the Golf Channel during the live coverage window on NBC.

"This coverage is geared toward our increasing number of fans who spend time in front of the broadcasts," said Finchem, "but also, at the same time, online, enjoying the benefits of the ShotLink system or other applications.

"Simulcast broadcast allows us to take into account the tremendous upsurge as it relates to tablets and smartphones and things that are going to grow significantly in the next five years."

At the Honda Classic in March, the PGA Tour officially lifted its longtime ban on cell phones at tournaments -- marking its first effort at embracing personal mobile technology.

"We've found that it's been a very manageable situation," said Finchem of the new policy. "Our fans have been very respectful of how to handle a cell phone on site.

"[Cell phones] do open up a communication conduit for the fan on-site. So we will be looking to a massive increase in usage of digital activity, not just how it relates to the coverage, but to other forms of access by our fans. Because we're partnering with our broadcast partners in these areas, it will generate not only value to the broadcast carrier but value to our sponsors, and it will result in a much more robust array of communication that is available to our fan base."

Taking a cue from traditional print media, which has been focusing more resources in the past 10 years to the digital side, the networks and the PGA Tour are putting an eye to the future.

"The majority of our sports programming is still coming from traditional media, 30-second spots and corporate sponsorship and title sponsorship, more so than the digital space," said McManus. "But I think all of us realize that digital space, while it might be a lot smaller than the traditional media, is growing, and in some cases at a faster pace."

If the tour's embrace of these new methods doesn't sound especially new, it's because the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship have been doing it for several years.

Still, the announcement of a new deal is a boon to the sport, especially at a time when its No. 1 product, Tiger Woods, continues to struggle on the golf course, and the U.S. economy deals with high unemployment and debt. Whether golf can attract more eyes through digital media is still questionable, especially since the general golf demographic tends to be older than in other sports.

Perhaps this will be the revolution to add new and young viewers.

Either way, the golf business has proven to be resilient and capable of surviving tough times.

The good thing now is that it's doing so by staying in touch with the changing times, both technologically and economically.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com