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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Could the U.S. Women’s Open Get Its Own Media-Rights Deal? ‘It’s Possible’

  • The USGA’s 12-year, $1.1 billion media-rights contract is ending in 2026.
  • Striking separate deals for the men’s and women’s championships is not out of the question.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Nelly Korda (above, right) comes into the U.S. Women’s Open, which begins Thursday, seeking her second major championship of the year and seventh victory overall this season on the LPGA Tour. The American superstar, 25, has won six of the eight tournaments she’s played in 2024.

NBC Sports will air the U.S. Women’s Open, which could be another step in Korda’s historic season. What is the broadcaster paying for the tournament’s rights? That’s complicated. The United States Golf Association owns and operates a variety of championships, like the U.S. Open, for both men and women. Traditionally, it has sold all of its media rights together in one package. The current contract, which NBC took over from Fox in 2019, is worth $1.1 billion over 12 years and expires in ’26. 

With interest still rising in women’s sports as a whole, could the USGA capitalize on the moment and strike separate deals for its men’s and women’s events? “It’s possible,” Jon Podany, the organization’s chief commercial officer, tells Front Office Sports. “But we kind of like the family of championships being associated with one or two networks.” 

USGA CEO Mike Whan didn’t want to speculate about the upcoming media-rights negotiations when asked by FOS. But neither he nor Podany would completely rule out the idea of a broadcaster swooping in for the U.S. Women’s Open alone. “We’ll explore the best coverage and financial value—we’ve got to look at all those factors,” Podany says. “So, I suppose it’s possible if somebody really wanted to focus on women.”

The Next Big Women’s Sport?

This U.S. Women’s Open will look to ride the momentum around Korda to try to top last year’s audience, which was the tournament’s highest since 2014. Sunday’s final round averaged 1.58 million viewers on NBC as golf fans watched the action unfold from iconic Pebble Beach Golf Links. This year’s tournament takes place in Pennsylvania at Lancaster Country Club, which has hosted one previous U.S. Women’s Open.

Korda’s run comes at a pivotal time for women’s sports in general, as basketball and soccer, in particular, continue to explode in popularity and ink lucrative media-rights deals. For independent leagues like the NWSL, that meant signing a landmark $240 million set of agreements. But for others like the WNBA, which is owned by the NBA, broadcast deals are more complicated as some are tied to their male counterparts.

If the USGA does opt to keep all of its inventory in the same package, Podany doesn’t think it would announce an assigned value to the women’s championships as the NCAA and ESPN did—women’s March Madness is valued at $65 million annually in the eight-year, $920 million extension signed earlier this year. But he did note that the men’s U.S. Open represents only about 50–55% of the USGA’s gross rating points, a metric commonly used to measure value in media ad buying.

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