Media Column: Fox Buys U.S. Open Rights Through 2026; More Sports Media Roster Moves

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1. Fox Sports made a major splash this week by purchasing the rights to the U.S. Open Golf tournament. The 12-year deal between FOX and the USGA will cover the U.S. Open, the Senior Open, the Women’s Open, the U.S. Amateur, starting in 2015.

While the financial particulars of the deal were undisclosed, Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Michael Bamberger wrote: “According to people who might well know, under the current deal, NBC pays $50 million a year to the USGA. FOX doubled that number, $100 million a year for 12 years. On the call round, NBC was said to go to $80 million. ESPN offered about the same, and the promise of four days of ESPN coverage. CBS was never really in the mix, because its highest golf priority would always be the Masters, and that position would be untenable to the USGA.”

Fox Sports didn’t necessarily need to buy these rights away from its competitors, but there isn’t a such thing as too many live rights. Fox outbid NBC and ESPN and will air its first golf tournament ever broadcast on its family of networks starting in 2015. This means that NBC is now shutout of every golfing major. CBS owns the Masters, ESPN now broadcasts every day of the Open Championship, Fox now has the U.S. Open, and CBS and Turner Sports share the PGA Championship. This is another example of Fox being very serious about its competition, but this doesn’t mean that Fox will be a dominant force in the golf world.

Other than the U.S. Open, Fox will not have the live rights for any other PGA tournaments, but this will be something to fill space on FS1 and FS2 during the summer. This purchase, along with the future live rights of the World Cup, will also give Fox some semblance of sophistication, offsetting the NASCAR and UFC fans that already inhabit their demographics. This deal also gives an increased spotlight to the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Women’s Open and the Senior Open, tournaments that mostly go unnoticed to the casual fan.

USGA spokesman Joe Goode told AP’s Doug Ferguson that “signing with Fox was not a reflection on NBC or ‘simply the financials.’”

“Rather the decision is consistent with our strategy for delivering golf in new and innovative ways, which can be achieved with a partner that has a completely fresh perspective on the game,” he said.

The USGA is excited for more money, and Fox is excited for some content and their ability to take competitor’s live rights away from them. Let’s just hope that the “completely fresh perspective” isn’t too “fresh.”

“We’re looking forward to Fox Sports becoming home to the preeminent golf championship in the world,” FOX Sports executive Eric Shanks said. “We’re committed to elevating coverage of USGA events on every level, infusing them with a new energy and innovation that will make every championship the best golf event on television.”

1a. Fox now has to figure out who will announce these events.  It’s doubtful that Johnny Miller would jump ship from NBC to Fox, because he’s loyal to NBC and he’s already taken some shots at Fox. Golf Digest’s Tim Rosaforte (who is a great insider for the Golf Channel himself) reported that Fox had reached out to former golfing great Greg Norman to be a potential analyst. Norman hasn’t signed anything, but is interested.

Fox could go about finding their golf team in multiple ways. They could draw from their commentators already on staff. (Hopefully Gus Johnson is busy during the summer, or else the “Quiet Please” sign holder will have a busy four days.) A soft, stern Jim Nantz-like voice is needed for Fox, who aren’t normally very good at being reserved and respective. The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee is my personal pick for the best golf analyst on TV today and Fox should call him first.

David Feherty would be a perfect analyst for Fox. He’s mostly uncensored, hilarious and oddly witty. Though he is heavily involved with CBS and the Golf Channel, a studio-booth analyst gig would be a promotion from his current course-side reporting job. Other options include: Going younger and poaching Shane Bacon from Yahoo!’s Devil Ball Golf blog; trying to go more light-hearted with a team of CBS’ Gary McCord and Feherty; or waiting around for certain players to retire to the booth.

When he retires, Ian Poulter would make for a great analyst – as would Lee Westwood. But Fox finding its own main voice – their Jim Nantz, Dan Hicks, Mike Tirico, Scott Van Pelt – will not be easy.

How Fox can be a less serious, more fun sports network and still maintain the decorum and pomposity of golf remains to be seen. But the caliber of their commentators and analysts will be a great indicator of their motives.

1b. Awful Announcing’s Matt Yoder wrote a facetious list of how Fox will make their coverage “fun”: No glowing ball, avoid showing the robot at all costs and many other things.

2. With the Fox Sports 1 launch now less than a week away, the battle between ESPN and Fox has gotten snippy. ESPN talent, who are normally shunned away for speaking ill of a competitor, have been tweaking FS1 on Twitter over the past few days: Bill Simmons did it on Saturday; Scott Van Pelt chimed in; And John Buccigross did it on Twitter, and as a tease for SportsCenter on Sunday night. The use of “fun” in every Fox press release, interview and promotion, along with the “jockularity” promises and the imminent threat of ratings stealing is clearly being discussed amongst the Bristol people, causing these interesting – albeit, mostly clever – responses to anything FS1-related. Aug. 17 is fast approaching.

3. To fill more spaces and make headlines, Fox Sports 1 continued their hiring spree by hiring Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios and decorated former U.S. figure skater Michelle Kwan. Pro Football Talk reported that former NFL wide receiver Randy Moss is close to a deal with FS1, but he isn’t an official hire yet. PFT reports that Moss will serve as an analyst alongside Brian Urlacher, Ronde Barber on Fox Football Daily. NFL on Fox studio host Curt Menefee and Fox NFL insider Jay Glazer will also feature on this show. Fox will obviously use Kwan as an Olympic analyst, and Chelios will serve as the network’s main NHL analyst, as well as cover Olympic hockey during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

3a. Fox Sports 1 also completed the defection of ESPN’s Mike Hill this week. Hill had been with ESPN for nine years and will guest host both the nightly highlight show Fox Sports Live and Fox Football Daily for FS1.

4. Speaking of NFL on Fox, the sports group announced their announcing crews for the 2013-2014 NFL season, during which they will broadcast Super Bowl XLVIII from New Jersey. Most of the crews will be the same, but the most intriguing grouping will be the recently hired Kevin Burkhardt from SNY, John Lynch, who has been an NFL on Fox analyst for a few years, and Erin Andrews, who is returning to a sideline reporter role for the NFL only.

Andrews will remain the studio host for Fox’s college football pregame shows, but will be on NFL sidelines as well. Fox Sports Live daily update reporter Molly McGrath will also serve as a sideline reporter with Sam Rosen and Heath Evans. Fox Football Daily analyst Ronde Barber is also a new addition to the lineup, and will provide color commentary alongside Dick Stockton and newly hired sideline reporter Kris Budden.

Burkhardt, who is only partially signed with Fox because his SNY contract runs through 2014, is a rising star, and a much anticipated voice in the NFL booth.

4a. SI and theMMQB’s Richard Deitsch did an excellent profile piece of Fox’s newest NFL voice.

5. Fox Sports 2, the channel that will replace FuelTV and hasn’t been officially announced yet, is probably the worst kept sports media secret around. Awful Announcing spotted that FuelTV’s website already had an announcement of the change, along with a full daily schedule of FS2’s first week. FS1 goes live where the SPEED channel used to be at 6 a.m. ET on Aug. 17. FS2 goes live then too. Apparently the subtle, word-of-mouth announcement of Fox Sports 2 is what Fox wants. Maybe it’s to counteract the media barrage behind FS1.

But who cares? FS2 is going to show Australian Rules Football, Sunday at 2:30 a.m. ET. Footy will no longer be banished to Fox Sports Plus – a channel for which DirecTV wants $15 a month. Hooray!

6. The Big Lead is reporting that Yahoo! NFL Columnist Mike Silver is leaving the site and is expected to land at the NFL Network. A big loss for Yahoo!, and yet another fine get by NFL Media.

7. ESPN/ABC and TNT announced their 2013-2014 NBA schedule. SB Nation’s Steve LePore compiled a list of every game so I didn’t have to.

8. And now, the “things I read or watched this week and you should too” list:


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