An absolute nail-biter of a finish and a prime-time broadcast window helped boost ratings for Fox's inaugural coverage of golf's U.S. Open, while pouring millions of ad dollars into the network's coffers.
According to preliminary Nielsen data, Fox's coverage of the final round at Chambers Bay averaged 7.58 million viewers, marking a 47% improvement versus NBC's year-ago draw of 5.15 million viewers. The broadcast, which culminated in a second major PGA Tour victory for 21-year-old Masters winner Jordan Spieth, delivered a 1.7 rating among adults 18-to-49, topping NBC's demo delivery in 2014 by 55%.
(Preliminary ratings data are directional at best. NBC's fourth-round U.S. Open numbers last year were adjusted down to 4.63 million viewers and a 0.9 in the demo upon the release of Nielsen's final live-plus-same-day estimates. By way of comparison, the Peacock Network delivered 8.39 million viewers and a 1.9 in the demographic with its coverage of Justin Rose's two-stroke victory in 2013.)
Regardless of how the ratings shake out, Fox in its first major golf outing enjoyed what may best be described as beginner's luck. Already hailed as the new face of golf after his decisive win at Augusta, Mr. Spieth made legions of new fans as he weathered a late charge by Louis Oosthuiszen—the South African duffer birdied six of his final seven holes—and was the beneficiary of Dustin Johnson's three-putt on the 18th green. With his one-stroke victory, Mr. Spieth became only the sixth golfer to win the Masters and Open in the same year and the first to do so since Tiger Woods (2002).
Fox in the last 37 minutes of the final round did not cut away for a commercial break, which only served to ramp up the tension as the three contenders bore down on the grandstand. That aside, the network still managed to scare up a nice chunk of change during the last day of the Open; per iSpot.tv estimates, Fox on Sunday generated $12.3 million in ad sales revenue, or nearly half the $27.8 million it and cable net Fox Sports 1 took in over the course of the four-day tourney.
The biggest backer of the 2015 Open was the United States Golf Association, which invested $4.5 million in no fewer than 105 promotional spots, of which 29 aired in prime time. Also digging deep were official USGA sponsors American Express ($2.01 million); Lexus ($1.81 million); and Rolex ($1.54 million). The fourth official USGA backer, IBM, trailed the rest of its cohorts, taking eight units for $408,000.
Other top U.S. Open sponsors were: Sprint, Microsoft, Titleist, Apple, Olive Garden
and Taco Bell.
The top 10 automotive sponsors were Lexus, Dodge, Hyundai, Lincoln, Chevrolet, Nissan, Jeep, Volkswagen, Mazda and Toyota. Together, these brands spent some $4.3 million on ad inventory, per iSpot.tv.
Titleist was the biggest endemic sponsor, topping all golf brands with $685,000 in Open spending. Geico ($595,000) was the leading insurance brand; Taco Bell outspent the quick-service restaurant field ($630,000); and Anheuser-Busch's Michelob threw down the most beer money with a $383,000 allotment.
While the overall sponsorship haul wasn't enough to defray the $100 million annual rights fee, buyers said that many clients who bought time in the Open took positions in Fox Sports' upcoming coverage of the U.S. Senior Open, the U.S. Women's Open and the U.S. Amateur Championship.
Not that making a profit is the be-all and end-all when sports are on the table. As the last bastion of live-TV viewing, high-end sporting events claim the highest commercial deliveries of all genres. (This is largely a function of reach and the fact that ad-avoidance is demonstrably lower within the context of sports broadcasts.) As such, sports content becomes increasingly invaluable as an in-house promotional vehicle, while helping inflate the perceived value for cable networks like FS1.
Per SNL Kagan estimates, FS1 at the tail end of its second year of operation now commands a monthly carriage fee of 99 cents per subscriber per month. With a reach of 91.2 million households, the network generates $1.08 billion in annual affiliate revenue alone.