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Why Fox Sports Paid $1 Billion for Golf

U.S. Open Golf
U.S. Open

The upstart ESPN challenger has big plans to jazz up the U.S. Open, with more cameras and technical innovation, the network's co-president Eric Shanks tells THR, with an eye toward "things that maybe haven't been done before."

This story first appeared in the Aug. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Fox Sports is planning a new spin on golf coverage. When the division's new 12-year, $1 billion deal with the U.S. Golf Association begins in 2015, viewers can expect "the Fox attitude, energy, enthusiasm and toughness," says Eric Shanks, co-president of the Fox Sports Media Group. "We'll work hand in hand with the USGA to tell the stories through technology and interesting on-air personalities."

Does that mean slow and steady golf is getting a jolt? Fox is likely to bring more cameras and technical innovation to its coverage, as it did with its score box in baseball and its fluorescent puck in hockey, as well as more promotion across all of the Fox networks in an effort to attract golf's more casual fans.

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"Can we do things that maybe haven't been done before," adds Shanks, "things fans can appreciate that bring the sport into their living rooms in a way that is a bit more compelling?" In addition to the U.S. Open, Fox Sports will air about 146 hours of amateur golf events as well as ancillary programming such as documentaries, post-tournament shows and footage from the USGA archives.

The golf world was shocked when ESPN and NBC (and its sister network the Golf Channel), which have held the USGA's rights since 1994, lost not only the U.S. Open but also top tournaments for women and seniors. Under the previous deal, the USGA reportedly received about $37 million a year. NBC/Golf Channel is said to have offered as much as $80 million a year.

Shanks and Fox declined comment on the financial terms of their new agreement, which sources say is $100 million a year.

Although NBC, the Golf Channel and CBS still will carry the PGA Tour through 2021, USGA golf will air exclusively on the Fox broadcast network, Fox regional channels and Fox Sports 1, the national cable network launching Aug. 17.

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Of course, the biggest question facing Fox is whether Cleatus, Fox NFL Sunday's robotic mascot, will cross over to a new sport. "We haven't spoken to Cleatus' agent or any of the other robots' agents," jokes Shanks, "about their ability to swing a golf club."