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Hope Will Get a Cable Hookup

Event will go off the networks and on the Golf Channel in 2007, when PGA Tour gets shaken up.

January 12, 2006|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

If you're looking for the Bob Hope Classic on television beginning in 2007, you'll have to find the Golf Channel on the remote control.

Under the PGA Tour's new six-year television contract announced Wednesday, the cable channel will be the new home of the 47-year-old tournament, which will not be telecast by a network for the first time. ABC's final Hope telecast is next week.

When Commissioner Tim Finchem announced the tour's new television arrangement with broadcast partners CBS, NBC and the Golf Channel in a conference call, the notable absentees were ABC, which was expected, and ESPN, which was something of a surprise. Neither ABC nor ESPN are involved in the new PGA Tour television package, nor is USA Network, which has handled some early-round tournament coverage.

But perhaps the most surprising change involved the Hope. Officially the third event on the PGA Tour calendar beginning in 2007, it joins the season-opening Mercedes Championships and the Sony Open as tournaments that will be carried entirely on the Golf Channel.

That also means that the Hope will be played opposite the NFL playoffs for six years, which could be seen as further clouding the situation because of the television ratings at stake and what that might mean to tournament title sponsor Chrysler.

John Foster, a member of the Hope executive board, said the tournament's relationship with the Golf Channel could work out all right.

"We'll be a big fish in a small pond there," he said. "The image of it is probably a bigger deal than the actual effect. Hopefully. We're just not going to have a network provider. [The PGA Tour's] reasons for doing it are their reasons and sometimes we can't understand them."

Finchem said the Golf Channel is expanding into more households, attracts the desired audience and that any other problems with the Hope move don't add up.

"We just concluded that being in that third week with the NFL and covering it on the Golf Channel makes a lot of sense," he said. "The Golf Channel is a platform we think is going to be exactly where we want it to be in two years."

Finchem said 70 million households have the Golf Channel and that number will reach 90 million in two years.

Nielsen Media Research estimates the Golf Channel reaches 67.8 million households in the U.S., or 61% of the nation's 110 million television households. The major networks essentially reach all 110 million. Nielsen Media Research said ESPN reaches 90 million, or 82% of the total number of households.

Comcast, which owns the Golf Channel, also owns OLN, a cable network that carries the NHL.

Finchem said the tour's new 15-year agreement with the Golf Channel is simply strategic planning.

"We're not going in this with blinders on," he said. "We've been working on this for three years."

He said the PGA Tour has every reason to ensure the success of the Golf Channel and not just to make the Hope tournament officials feel more secure. The Golf Channel will also carry early-round coverage of the so-called FedEx Cup season, including the series-ending World Golf Championships and the Tour Championship, plus the Players Championship that's being moved from March to the second week of May in 2007.

Where this leaves the Hope is clear -- a different television home on a different cable format. As for the networks, CBS is expanding its tournament coverage from 16 to 19 and will continue to carry the Nissan Open while NBC will double the number of its tournaments, from five to 10.

The PGA Tour's four-year, $850-million television contract ends at the end of this year. Finchem did not disclose the rights fees associated with the new deal, but he said the tour is projecting a $600-million increase in player benefits, prize money and retirement plan contributions as a result of the six-year contract.

There is more money to consider. If the Hope knows where it's going to be, whether Chrysler will continue to sponsor the event is unclear.

Chrysler's deal with the Hope ends with next week's $5-million tournament and it is already dropping its title sponsorship of three events in 2007 -- at Greensboro, N.C., Tampa and Tucson, which will be eliminated completely as a tournament once the complete PGA Tour schedule is released in the next few weeks.

Tucson has had a PGA Tour event since 1945. The PGA Tour event in Milwaukee is also expected to be eliminated from the schedule. It has been a tour event since 1968.

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