Ponte Vedra Beach: Even without Tiger Woods displaying the form that won 14 major titles, the US PGA Tour said Thursday it has signed its longest US network television contracts for rights through 2021.
The record-setting nine-year deals with CBS and NBC extend the current contracts, set to expire in 2012, through the 2021 season, the same time the US PGA's US cable television deal with The Golf Channel expires.
"We're absolutely delighted to announce these new long-term agreements," US PGA commissioner Tim Finchem said. "Our partnership with all our broadcast partners will provide continuity for our fans."
CBS will continue with about 20 tour telecasts each year, about twice what NBC offers, although NBC holds rights to the final three events of the US PGA playoffs, including the season-ending Tour Championship.
Former World No. 1 Woods, winless since the eruption of his infamous sex scandal in November 2009, has been a huge ratings draw as he chases the all-time record of 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus.
The new deal ensures current telecasters the chance to cover Woods in PGA events through age 45, essentially for the remainder of his most competitive years as he chases the career mark of Nicklaus.
With Woods injured or on hiatus for much of the past three years, TV networks and sponsors have seen viewership dip, also in part because some top stars such as Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy play mainly in Europe.
But McIlroy, who won his first major title in June at the US Open, plans to play on the US PGA Tour next year and the demise of Woods as a dominating figure has brought greater attention on other players and a larger number of event winners, a competitive balance that has helped rescue ratings recently.
"Fans clearly have taken increasingly to the nature of our competition over the last couple years and in doing so have reinstilled confidence in our sport that might have been waning when our No. 1 player was not that active two of the last four years," Finchem said of Woods' absences.
"But there is such tremendous buzz and focus on this juxtaposition of Tiger and Phil (Mickelson) and other mature players and veteran players against this huge increase in young players who are coming forward and able to win tournaments at every level... I think that is a major factor of why we are now at a point where we can look forward to 10 years in growth."
Finchem did not reveal dollar figures for the new deal but said it would allow for greater financial opportunities for players, increased internet coverage for fans and greater charitable contributions from the tour.
Prize money has jumped from about $80 million in 1997, the year Woods won his first major title at the Masters, to about $280 million this year, a pattern that figures to continue given the new TV deals.
The move comes after Finchem has had to scramble to renew sponsorships or replace lost deals in order to keep several tournaments afloat.
"A 10-year runway gives our sponsors a lot of confidence in where the television side of the sport is going to be," Finchem said. "That helps us in terms of creating value for our sponsors.
"Over this economic downturn, not only have our sponsors stayed with the product, but in many cases have chosen to extend well into the future."