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PGA Tour announce new 6 year TV deal

There won't be as much channel-surfing to find the PGA Tour next year, the start of a six-year deal that includes only two major networks and gives The Golf Channel exclusive cable rights for 15 years.

The announcement Wednesday culminates a major shake-up in the structure of the PGA Tour, which also revamped its schedule to create a season-long points race and a blockbluster finish designed to get Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and other stars to play together more often.

And while financial terms with CBS Sports and NBC Sports were not disclosed, commissioner Tim Finchem conceded that prize money that was escalating at a bullish rate will flatten over the next six years.

"I think it's fair to say that the purse level increases year-to-year will not be as steep in the next six years," Finchem said in a conference call that was short on specifics.

It was the most taxing negotiations since Woods joined the PGA Tour in 1996, became an instant star and allowed the tour to negotiate TV deals that sent the total purse from $96 million to $255 million in eight years.

ABC Sports walked away from negotiations late last month, and cable partner ESPN followed. That keeps the PGA Tour away from the biggest sports brand on cable, relegating all Thursday and Friday rounds -- along with three tournaments at the start of 2007 -- to a cable channel that still doesn't reach every market.

"With only a couple of networks, people know where to tune in for golf," David Toms said at the Sony Open. "But you might lose the casual fan who might not subscribe to The Golf Channel. I know they've been pushing hard to grow the tour, and we've had a tough economic environment. I think they did a good job."

Other players were skeptical, saying they wanted more time to look at the deal.

Except for the four policy board members, players weren't aware of the deal until the tour's press release was posted in the locker room at Waialae Country Club.

More pieces of the puzzle are to follow in the next week, such as the how the 2007 schedule will look, and how many tournaments will be part of the "Quest for the Card," a series of tournaments after the Tour Championship that will allow players to try to finish in the top 125 on the money list.

Along with announcing a television deal, Finchem said The Players Championship would move from the last weekend in March to the second week in May, which would allow for golf's "fifth major" to have better weather and more daylight. He also said NBC would have no more than five minutes of commercials every hour at The Players Championship, similar to the arrangement CBS has with the Masters.

And in a move that might further muddle the meaning of "World Golf Championships," all of them will be played in the United States in 2007 with the one that alternated with Europe moving to Doral at the end of March. A traditional kickoff to the Florida swing, Doral now will have a limited field.

The tour already had two dozen title sponsors signed up through 2010. Finchem did not say whether the tour would have to rework its contract with tournaments that are going from ESPN to The Golf Channel. And it was not clear how The Golf Channel's coverage of the PGA Tour would affect the Champions and Nationwide tours, which are shown exclusively on the cable outlet.

The deal was a boon for The Golf Channel, which celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2005.

It will televise the first three events of the season -- winners-only event at Kapalua, the Sony Open and the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, before CBS takes over through most of the West Coast swing.

NBC Sports made a major investment in the PGA Tour. It previously televised only the Florida swing, along with separate deals for the U.S. Open, Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. NBC will double its load to 10 events, meaning twice as much Johnny Miller.

It starts with the Accenture Match Play Championship, expected to move to Tucson, Ariz., and carries through Florida to the WGC-CA Championship (CA formerly was Computer Associates) at Doral. It also will have The Players Championship, and the last three FedEx Cup Championship Series events -- the Deutsche Bank Championship, Western Open and the Tour Championship at East Lake.

"We're particularly thrilled with the upscale nature of the events we've picked up," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said on the conference call.

CBS will go from an average of 16 tour events to 20. It has the Masters and PGA Championship, will continue to televise the WGC event at Firestone and its coverage will conclude with the Barclays Classic, the first of the FedEx Cup Championship Series.

"I think our schedule is better than it's been in the past," CBS Sports president Sean McManus said. "We kept the quality events we wanted to keep, and we upgraded our schedule."

Finchem said one reason for a six-year deal instead of the traditional four years is to allow the new FedEx Cup competition to take root before having to negotiate another deal.

January 12, 2006


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