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Thursday, May 23, 2024

While Nelly Korda Chases History, LPGA Tries to Close a Coverage Gap

  • The women’s golf tour began a media deal with the network last year.
  • Streaming coverage of the LPGA is far smaller than on the PGA Tour.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Scottie Scheffler isn’t playing in the PGA Tour’s next $20 million signature event this week as the Masters champion and winner of four out of his last five tournaments continues to await the birth of his first child. However, on the LPGA Tour, Nelly Korda (above), winner of five straight, is back in action looking to become the first women’s golfer to claim six consecutive victories.

As the action unfolds, ESPN+ is pulling double duty on its golf coverage—but not all things are equal. The streaming service will broadcast from the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, and the Cognizant Founders Cup in Clifton, N.J., which carries a $3 million purse. While ESPN’s separate media-rights deals with those tours aren’t directly correlated with the difference in prize money this week (or any other), it does highlight the disparity between the men’s and women’s games off the course.

During the first two rounds Thursday and Friday, viewers of PGA Tour Live on ESPN+ will be able to choose from a main feed, marquee groups, featured groups, and featured holes before afternoon coverage on Golf Channel. ESPN is paying the PGA Tour $75 million annually, according to The New York Times. LPGA fans have two featured group options during each of the morning and afternoon waves ahead of afternoon coverage on Peacock. “The women’s production is slimmer than the PGA Tour production,” John Lasker, senior vice president at ESPN+, admits in a conversation with Front Office Sports

Room to Grow

The Founders Cup is just the third LPGA event with ESPN+ coverage since a streaming deal was struck in November (NBC Sports is the LPGA’s primary media-rights holder). ESPN+ will broadcast from two more LPGA events this year and eight total during the lifespan of the deal that runs into 2025. ESPN wouldn’t comment on the financial terms of the LPGA deal, although a source tells FOS that the tour is sharing production costs with the network. Lasker says production resources, financing, and sponsorship capability dictate what ESPN+ can and can’t offer.

“Deals come in all shapes and sizes,” Lasker says. “So, I wouldn’t suggest that the LPGA deal is really an outlier or overly unique. We do deals that look and smell like this all the time.” While ESPN+ doesn’t release viewership metrics, Lasker claims the LPGA coverage so far has exceeded expectations. 

Overall, the LPGA deal is part of ESPN’s growing portfolio of women’s sports, from the WNBA to college sports to the NWSL and more. Lasker wouldn’t rule out expanding LPGA coverage when the time is right. “If you just compare [golf] to any other sport, it’s crazy to imagine that there’s action happening that isn’t distributed and available,” he says.

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