The PGA Tour is beginning the second campaign of a nine-year, $685 million media rights deal with ESPN+, the prominent subscription streaming platform that streamed more than 27,000 sporting events in 2022.
So far, the tour is ecstatic with the results.
In a conversation with Global Golf Post, tour officials noted several encouraging stats about the PGA Tour Live product that will offer 4,300 hours of live golf over the course of 35 tournaments in 2023.
PGA Tour Live was streamed by more viewers than any other live content on ESPN+ for the January-August window last year. Related to that popularity, ESPN+ witnessed a 42 percent increase in overall subscribers last year.
Luis Goicouria, the tour’s senior vice president of media, explained that PGA Tour Live’s viewership on ESPN+ dwarfs the numbers that were previously seen on NBC Sports.
“We’re looking at more than 30 times (the viewers),” Goicouria said. “It’s exponentially more than what we were getting before.”
The service is seen as a critical device for fan engagement, and it figures to play a central role in the tour’s overall broadcast strategy moving forward.
Launched in 2015, PGA Tour Live provided another avenue for golf followers to consume tour competition beyond the traditional cable broadcast. The idea was for certain featured groups and holes to be streamed with minimal commercial interruption, creating a podcast-like environment where more in-depth conversations could be had.
The service originally was available for $4.99 per month, with the tour using its own site for distribution. In 2019, it was folded into NBC Sports Gold, where roughly 360 hours were broadcast in the first year of a three-year contract. Consumers paid $9.99 per month or $64.99 per season for the subscription.
While the product was seen as positive momentum for a sport lagging well behind other major sports in broadcasting innovation, the audience regularly complained of a poor user experience within the NBC Sports app, a lack of golf shots shown and difficulty switching between feeds.
“We’ve seen fans spending upwards of 10 hours on an individual basis with PGA Tour Live content throughout the year. So that’s rather significant from an engagement perspective and bodes well for our growth here moving forward.” – John Lasker, ESPN+
ESPN+ immediately alleviated several problems. Coverage hours were tripled as the weekly production crew expanded from 85 people to more than 200. Four feeds were created, including a main channel that combined all of the shots offered into one feed – when traditional network coverage begins, the main feed channel goes dark. The user experience within the app was also rated favorably.
“We’ve seen fans spending upwards of 10 hours on an individual basis with PGA Tour Live content throughout the year,” said John Lasker, ESPN’s vice president of programming and acquisitions for digital media. “So that’s rather significant from an engagement perspective and bodes well for our growth here moving forward.”
Adding to the benefit, golf fans receive a library of live sports and on-demand ESPN products. There are more than 24 million ESPN+ subscribers, so casual sports fans looking for other content regularly interact with PGA Tour Live.
“The partnership has been a huge success,” Goicouria said. “It’s honestly beyond what we thought it could be. The platform that ESPN, that Disney has built that sits on the Major League Baseball advanced media platform, it is just incredible. The quality of the stream, the quality of the picture, the audience that’s consuming it that’s captured on the ESPN+ platform … they are all huge factors as to why it’s been so successful.”
The subscription initially cost $6.99, saving fans $3 per month. However, the ESPN+ subscription price increased to $9.99 per month ($99.99 per year) last August.
Consumers also can get access to ESPN+ by purchasing a bundle that includes Disney Plus and Hulu. This costs $12.99 per month ($110 per year) for those willing to sit through ads on Disney Plus and Hulu. There are different bundle structures that include ad-free versions of Disney Plus and Hulu ($19.99 per month) or bundles that offer “Hulu + Live TV” ($70 per month with ads).
For those who use Hulu + Live TV as their main entertainment app, they have access to PGA Tour Live and the traditional broadcast within the Hulu app.
“We think that’s another way to get your PGA Tour content in front of more people while also making it easy for the existing fans that know how to find it,” Lasker said. “People are searching for how to find all of the coverage. It’s sort of a dream scenario for a golf fan.”
Goicouria and Lasker said that coverage will look relatively similar this year, but there are still new frontiers on the horizon.
They estimate that more than 60 percent of PGA Tour shots are still not being shown, although PGA Tour Live’s growth has started to cut into that number. Every shot of the Players Championship is shown live, but Goicouria said it is “extremely expensive to produce” that type of broadcast and that it is not always feasible to do that within the tour’s current rights structure.
However, efforts to show more shots will continue to be made.
“We think that eventually that is the way golf production is going to go,” Goicouria said. “It is going to be important to bring our fans every single shot. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a primary broadcast. But we do think that every shot live is something that will evolve over time. And the only way that it can evolve is if you do it and you figure out what works, what doesn’t work out, to bring the costs down and see how the viewers interact with it.”
Added Lasker: “Ultimately, I think the expectation is going to be that the player I’m interested in is playing right now, so I should be able to watch him right now.”
It appears that much of the demand is driven by gambling, another frontier that appears inevitable.
“That’s really Disney and ESPN coming together with the tour and deciding how we want to move forward with that,” Goicouria said. “We’re not rushing for that to happen. But I do think that over time you will see us addressing that space in some fashion on at least one of the feeds. Not sure if that will happen this year or not, but it’s something that we’re definitely looking at.”
All of it comes at a time of tremendous change for the tour as it hopes to streamline a clunky and inefficient network coverage model alongside TV partners NBC and CBS.
But for all the issues the network coverage has suffered, PGA Tour Live’s partnership with ESPN+ is an undeniable success.
Top Photo: Stan Badz, PGA Tour via Getty Images
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