Fox Sports gets U.S. Open; Miller likely out
PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Fox Sports is in as the next broadcast partner for the U.S. Open starting in 2015. Johnny Miller appears to be out.
In a surprising announcement Wednesday night, the U.S. Golf Association said it has signed a 12-year multimedia deal with Fox network and Fox Sports 1 to be the domestic broadcast partner for the U.S. Open and other USGA championships.
Though financial terms weren't disclosed, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said the Fox bid was in the neighborhood of $100 million a year, more than double the previous contract. The person wasn't authorized to release details and spoke on condition of anonymity.
NBC Sports had been televising the U.S. Open since 1995 at Shinnecock Hills, with Miller as its shoot-from-the-hip analyst who became as much of the show as the golf itself.
"It was a big bummer," Miller told The Associated Press from his home in Utah. "For some reason, I told Dan Hicks at the U.S. Open this year, 'I don't think we're going to keep the U.S. Open.' I just had a hunch it would be ESPN or Fox that stepped in and made a high bid. I know we tried.
"I feel bad for the USGA in a way that money was more important than basically a good golf crew."
The deal runs through 2026. The first U.S. Open for Fox will be from Chambers Bay outside Seattle.
NBC's last U.S. Open will be next year at Pinehurst No. 2 — the U.S. Women's Open will be played on the same course the following week.
"This is an exciting and remarkable day for the USGA, as our partnership with the Fox Sports is a game-changer for our organization and for the game of golf," USGA President Glen Nager said. "The game is evolving and requires bold and unique approaches on many levels, and Fox shares our vision to seek fresh thinking and innovative ideas to deliver championship golf. This partnership will help us to better lead and serve the game in new and exciting ways."
Along with NBC Sports televising the final two rounds — and two-hour segments on Thursday and Friday — ESPN showed the two opening rounds. NBC is owned by Comcast, which also owns Golf Channel.
"The combination of NBC and Golf Channel will continue to be the dominant voice in golf coverage going forward. We've enjoyed our 19-year relationship with the USGA, and will continue to serve the golf fan every day," NBC Sports Group said in a statement.
ESPN also released a statement, saying: "We've had a rewarding relationship with the USGA. We look forward to televising the U.S. Open and other USGA championships in 2014 and wish them the best in the future."
USGA spokesman Joe Goode said in an email that signing with Fox was not a reflection on NBC or "simply the financials."
"Rather the decision is consistent with our strategy for delivering golf in new and innovative ways, which can be achieved with a partner that has a completely fresh perspective on the game," he said.
Under the deal, Fox Sports will deliver 146 hours of USGA golf. That includes at least 70 hours of its three biggest events — the U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open and U.S. Senior Open. The other hours will be spent on amateur competitions, such as the U.S. Amateur and the new U.S. National Fourball Championship.
Fox Sports 1, the company's new cable channel, launches Aug. 17. Fox has been aggressively chasing rights to bolster its content, but there weren't a lot of options in the immediate future because of the increasing length of sports deals.
Randy Freer, the co-president and chief operating officer of Fox Sports, said the amateur events give Fox extensive content for its national and regional sports networks and that the deal could bring new viewers to Fox Sports 1.
Freer said it was too early to determine how Fox will cover the events or which announcers it will use.
Miller said it was unlikely he would go to Fox even if offered a chance. He said his contract with NBC runs through 2015.
"It was the highlight of my year of work for me," Miller said. "The U.S. Open has always been the tournament. It's a big bummer for me and Dan Hicks."
Hicks, the NBC's golf anchor, said on Twitter: "Will always love the U.S. Open. It becomes a part of you after so many yrs. Our national championship. What a privilege it has been."
NBC has three FedEx Cup playoff events, the Ryder Cup, the Florida swing and Houston Open leading up to the Masters, and The Players Championship.
"I don't know what they're going to do," Miller said about Fox. "You can't just fall out of a tree and do the U.S. Open. I guess the money was more important than the performance. No way they can step in and do the job we were doing. It's impossible. There's just no way. I wish Fox the very best."
Freer said Fox was "committed to elevating coverage of USGA events on every level, infusing them with a new energy and innovation that will make every championship the best golf event on television."
Freer said Fox would tap into the expertise of David Neal, a former NBC Sports executive hired to lead Fox's World Cup coverage, and that Fox also offers the USGA the opportunity to better differentiate the U.S. Open from the other majors.
"We don't have the past to hold onto," Freer said. "We'll work with the USGA to develop the best possible presentation of golf that we can do."
The PGA Tour has TV contracts with NBC, CBS and Golf Channel locked up through 2021.
The USGA's deal with Fox includes:
— Integrating the network's multiplatform assets, including its upcoming mobile app "Fox Sports Go."
— Elevating the visibility of the USGA's amateur events.
— Transforming U.S. Open week into a "powerful showcase and entertaining celebration" of golf.
— Supporting and highlighting the USGA programs such as the Rules of Golf, equipment standards, handicapping, the USGA Museum and the USGA Green Section.
"This partnership represents a promising new future for both organizations that will be marked by broadcast innovation, new approaches and fresh thinking," USGA executive director Mike Davis said. "We could not be more energized by what we will be able to accomplish together to make golf better, both now and for future generations of players and fans who love the game."
The decision to go with Fox is the latest development for the USGA, which this year has adopted a new rule that bans the anchored stroke used with long putters starting in 2016. It also eliminated the U.S. Amateur Public Links starting in 2015, and it launched a campaign against slow play called, "While We're Young."
The timing was peculiar. It was the second time in five years that the USGA made a major announcement during the PGA Championship — it announced a change in the size and shape of grooves in golf clubs at the 2008 PGA Championship.
The PGA of America was the most outspoken against the USGA's ban on anchored strokes.
"Given the very nature of major media and broadcast deals, they have a way of taking on a life of their own," Goode said in an email. "Rest assured, it was not our intent and it is not our style to disrupt a partner's event."
AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen contributed to this report.