NORTON, Mass. -- For the moment, forget the people who work for the PGA Tour, players, or the major networks with an Eye or Peacock as their logo.
Sure, when the tour announced Thursday that rights-fee deals with CBS and the NBC Sports Group had been extended another decade through 2021, plenty of people had reason to smile. From players, whose riches are secure for years to come, to sponsors, who know the network advertising reach will remain largely unchanged for another decade.
Yet for splash, the dollar signs are the secondary issue.
It's a spectacular cliché, but that doesn't mean it isn't appropriate. The biggest winners in the tour's new TV deal are, irrefutably, fans of the game of golf.
Starting next season, when the new technological rollout will begin with baby steps, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said fans will be able to watch the tour product via more portals than ever, including streaming coverage on their cellphones, computers and tablets via websites at CBS, NBC and the tour.
Hey, we in the network and on-line businesses are all about increasing your options of screwing around even more frequently at your particular workplace. The temptation is going to be steeper than ever starting next year, especially for the true junkies.
The mushrooming digital-rights issue was a major carrot as far as the networks re-upping, and it's the real nugget here for the game's aficionados, who couldn't care less whether tour purses will continue to increase (yes, slightly), the tour was able to command an increase in rights fees (it did) or which network will broadcast the Florida Swing (NBC, as usual).
Finchem called the cutting-edge, multiplatform deal "a robust array" of media spectrums that will leave fans with a dizzying assortment of portals to scratch their golfing itch. Simply put, once the nuances are ironed out, the tour product is going to be available everywhere and anywhere.
Technology is changing at breakneck speed, and finally, so is tour policy. Until a few months ago, the tour banned fans from bringing cellphones into events. For an outfit that fought those devices for more than a decade, this is a huge reversal of philosophy.
Finchem said research suggests that by 2015, an estimated 88 million people will have portable tablets, making them capable of viewing streaming video. Projections call for online portals to generate between 3 and 10 percent of tour viewership over the next few years. For the two networks forking over major dinero, that means reaching a broader, more financially well-heeled audience.
Streaming live coverage of the network feeds will be available on CBSSports.com and NBC Sports or Golf Channel websites, as well as the tour's site, communication chief Ty Votaw said.
Moreover, as coverage in other sports has been spun off onto cable-TV outlets that require a subscription, the new CBS/NBC deal ensures folks can watch the game, effectively for free, with an antenna at home. The breakdown of events going forward will remain the same, with CBS broadcasting around 20 events per year and NBC about 10, Finchem said.
Then new model works for the sponsors paying $7 million and more to put their name on the tournaments, too, because it means it reaches more eyeballs via the Internet broadcasts. Without them, there's no tournament to watch, period.
"It will generate more value to the broadcast carrier, it will generate more value to our sponsors because there are a variety of uses that tie into sponsorship, and it certainly will result in a much more robust way of programming and communication that's available to our fan base," Finchem said.
None of this is an accident. Research already has proven that the golf viewing demographic has more buying power than any other in sports. Finchem said that 165 million fans have watched golf at some point this year.
"That fan base has a huge buying power, and if you measure it against any other sports fan base, NFL, MLB, NASCAR, you name it, we rank No. 1 in terms of the appetite for digital applications, the interest in digital applications, and the historical ability to pay for digital applications, for example, if you look at what's available at the cable-television level today," he said.
Take that, football.
Ratings, widely expected to tank given the myriad problems of fading focal point Tiger Woods, have stabilized and actually increased in some fashion, presumably as fans become familiar with the new cast of tour characters. Weekend network viewership at PGA Tour events is up 13 percent from last year, Votaw said.
But again, that's all dollars and sense for the bean counters and IRS to sort through. For fans, the smorgasbord table just got extended by several more feet, and by several more flavors.
Finchem mentioned a book that had been written five years ago that detailed the changing landscape in media, and rightly noted that Twitter, iPads and many other fan-friendly technological advancements had been made since it was published. The networks and tour intend to harvest that fertile field and reap the benefits.
"The thing about digital is it's easy to count," Finchem said. "There's no hiding. You know exactly what's happening, so you can share that with the advertiser. The way this [deal] is structured, any of that that comes to fruition is really upside. It's upside for the sponsors, it's upside for the networks, and eventually it's upside for us."
Forget the business perks. For folks outside the ropes, it's the best upside of all.