Half of golf’s major championship schedule has a new television home.
On Tuesday, NBC Sports announced that both its early week U.S. Open and Open Championship coverage will move from NBC Sports Network and Golf Channel to USA Network, another member of the broadcast behemoth’s family of networks. As part of the shift, both the AIG Women’s Open and Women’s U.S. Open will also see their coverage shift to USA Network.
The USGA and R&A will join more than 10 sports properties making the shift to USA Network, in addition to horse racing, Premier League soccer and the Winter Olympics. The decision came as no surprise to most keen observers, who have been waiting for NBC Sports to announce its succession plan from soon to be defunct NBC Sports Network.
NBC’s decision to shutter NBC Sports Network — and its several hundred million dollars in cable subscription revenues — initially came as a shock to the sports media landscape. At one time, the network had propped up NBCSN as an alternative to ESPN, and through its NHL and soccer coverage, had seen some success in doing so. The decision to close the network altogether, even after several years of falling revenues coupled with a larger organizational shift at NBC, was a stunning development, particularly with NBC still promising national cable airtime in more than a dozen sports properties agreements. Without NBCSN, there wasn’t a natural fit to fill the (very high-priced) void.
Almost immediately, industry folks speculated upon USA as a successor. For one, the cable channel was one of the few in-house networks capable of satisfying the conditions laid out in NBC’s sports rights deals — one of a handful of reasons NBC brass shifted much of its NHL playoff coverage to the channel last spring. For another, USA’s origins are actually as a sports network. Back in the late 1970s and early 80s, Madison Square Garden Sports Network founded USA as a way of testing the satellite television model. At various points over the following two decades, USA became home to college sports, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the Olympics and even, for a brief moment, the Masters.
Golf knows USA, and while it’s been a while since the network put forth any serious effort into sports, it’s likely there are at least a handful of fans out there who won’t be totally flabbergasted by the thought of the network hosting something other than SVU reruns.
“We are excited to transition the cable coverage of many of our premium sports events to USA Network, Peacock, and other widely-distributed NBCUniversal platforms, which will give us a significant boost in television homes and will put us in an even stronger position as we grow our business,” said Pete Bevacqua, NBC Sports’ chairman, in a statement announcing the decision.
Bevacqua’s words say the not-so-quiet part out loud: the switch from NBCSN to USA shouldn’t be viewed as a one-for-one, because it isn’t one. Rather, it’s a sign of the direction of the whole of NBC’s business, which treads closer by the day to Peacock, its paid streaming platform. The move to USA ensures cable customers aren’t hung out to dry, but more notably, it frees up NBC to continue expanding into the next frontier.
For golf fans, Tuesday’s announcement marks little more than a four-times-a-year channel flip (NBC’s PGA Tour coverage will stay exclusively on Golf Channel). But it also marks a little bit more than that.