Thursday, February 12, 2009

KAHUKU, Hawaii (AP) — The LPGA Tour announced a 10-year agreement with Golf Channel on Wednesday, making the network the tour's exclusive cable home beginning in 2010.

The agreement, which LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens called "groundbreaking," establishes the tour as the only stand-alone U.S. women's professional sports organization to receive a rights fee agreement for domestic broadcast coverage. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.

Bivens said the fee was important, but the driving forces were finding a consistent home on TV and a partner to grow with.

"It's very difficult for our core, ardent fans to find the LPGA," she said. "We're between a couple of cable networks and between several broadcast networks, and by the time you also weigh in some of the off weeks, opposite the Masters and PGA playoffs, it's very difficult for even our best fans to find out where we are."

With the deal, Golf Channel in 2010 will become the exclusive cable home for all of the major tours, including the PGA, Champions, Nationwide, European and Canadian tours.

Golf Channel has televised numerous LPGA events over the past 14 years, including the Solheim Cup since 2005 and the LPGA Championship since 2006. The LPGA HealthSouth Disney Classic was the first U.S. golf tournament televised by the network when it launched in 1995.

The LPGA Tour is currently televised on cable by Golf Channel and ESPN2.

The tour and Golf Channel made the announcement a day before the start of the season-opening SBS Open, which features many of the rising stars that the tour is counting on, such as Michelle Wie, Yani Tseng, Paula Creamer and Jiyai Shin.

Golf Channel president Page Thompson said the network was a big believer in the tour and its talented, charismatic players. But Wie was not a factor.

"Michelle Wie's presence on the LPGA Tour has historically had an impact on ratings, but that doesn't have anything to do with this deal," he said.

Thompson said he thinks the long-term deal carries a lot of potential for the LPGA and Golf Channel to work together to develop sponsors.

Golf Channel will carry three- and four-round coverage of domestic events, including one major championship and international feeds of LPGA global events. It will retain rights to the Solheim Cup.

Golf Channel, a subsidiary of Comcast Corp., was co-founded by Arnold Palmer.

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