It is extraordinary and, at least in the U.S. television market, unprecedented. And it could become the model for leagues struggling to retain eyeballs in an ever-streaming entertainment world.
On Thursday morning, the USGA announced a long-term deal with Rolex whereby eight of the nine televised USGA championships, including the U.S. Women’s Open, the U.S. Senior Open, the U.S. Amateur and the Curtis Cup, will be aired commercial free, without interruption.
“We are excited to further Fox Sports’ commitment to innovative and immersive viewing experiences for our audiences, as well as targeted messaging for our partners,” Bruce Lefkowitz, executive VP of ad sales at Fox Networks Group, said in a USGA news release. “These uninterrupted broadcasts give us the opportunity to innovate and differentiate our telecast while capitalizing on the unique nature of the USGA championships to provide viewers with more live action and new perspectives on the golfers and championships.”
The only televised championship that will not be completely commercial free is the U.S. Open, but Rolex will present the final hour of that championship from Shinnecock Hills without interruption.
“Our deep commitment for over 50 years to championing the great game of golf and fostering individual excellence have hallmarked our USGA partnership, which stands as one of the longest and widest reaching,” said Arnaud Boetsch, Rolex SA director of communication and image. “We are proud to showcase the greatest moments in golf together and to foster our commitment to developing this great game for years to come.”
In the not-too-distant past, one of the joys of watching the Open Championship in Great Britain was the BBC’s uninterrupted coverage. From 6 a.m. until the last putt fell sometime after 9 p.m. local time, the BBC aired every second. That is an experience U.S. golf audiences have never had. The closest Americans have come was the year the Masters went commercial free because of the Hootie Johnson-Martha Burk spat. The club footed the bill that year so as not to put their advertising partners in a political bind.
“The winner in this partnership, ultimately, is the fan,” said USGA CEO and executive director Mike Davis. “Uninterrupted live golf coverage across eight of our championships is unprecedented. We are excited for the viewer to see the creativity of Fox Sports and be inspired by the stories that unfold across our championships.”
The deal, which was more than a year in the making, not only solidifies Rolex’s commitment to golf, it suggests that Fox isn’t going anywhere, either. The network, which came under criticism in its early broadcasts of USGA championships, has been the subject of many unfounded rumors in and out of the game. This deal indicates that the network is also in golf for the long haul.
This single-sponsor, uninterrupted-coverage model will be watched closely by other leagues. NASCAR, the various tennis organizations and MLS could all potentially benefit from a similar single-payer arrangement.
In an evolving entertainment world where live TV is dwindling and more people than ever are streaming, sponsoring partners, not advertisers could be the future.
We’re excited to share that starting in 2018, Rolex will be the exclusive presenting partner for uninterrupted live coverage of eight USGA championships on @FoxSports, bringing fans closer to the action as it unfolds than ever before. pic.twitter.com/U3fuzWHXF9
— USGA (@USGA) March 15, 2018