CBS Sports boss Sean McManus on negotiating 9-year deal with Tour, gambling, Tiger and more
CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, 65, is fresh off negotiating a nine-year extension for “the Eye” to retain its role as the primary broadcaster for network coverage of the PGA Tour. Here is an abridged version of an exclusive interview he conducted with Golfweek discussing the deal and the future of golf on TV.
Let’s start with a bit of a softball. What do you think your dad, legendary ABC Sports broadcaster Jim McKay, would make of this deal?
SEAN McMANUS: Well, he loved golf, so he would have loved the longevity of it. There wasn’t a sport that my dad enjoyed covering more than golf, that’s for sure.
Q. How do you think this deal is going to enhance the fan experience?
SM: You know, I think we’ll continue to put more facilities against the broadcast portion of the deal, but the coverage won’t look all that dramatically different than what it is now on CBS or NBC. I think the digital offerings are going to be much more robust and interesting on the ESPN+ platform, and I think we’ll continue to work with the Tour and our production team to improve coverage, obviously. But I don’t see drastic differences in the broadcast component. I think most of the new offerings will come from the digital side of the deal.
Q. How much interest did CBS have in the streaming rights that went to Disney and ESPN+?
SM: We were focused primarily on the broadcast rights, to be honest with you. That was our main priority, and the interest in the other platforms was really secondary. We did not pursue those aggressively.
Q. With Tiger cutting back, CBS certainly demonstrated a lot of confidence in the PGA Tour by investing in a nine‑year extension. With his career potentially winding down, any concerns about paying so much money for the rights?
SM: Not really. The deal didn’t anticipate Tiger being a major factor in the coming years. If he is – and listen, we hope he is, that would be terrific – but the numbers aren’t based on the “Tiger effect,” and you know I think that the way the underpinning works with the PGA Tour, they deliver between 60 and 70 percent of all the commercial inventory through the title sponsors and the FedEx contributions. We pretty much know what the majority of our revenue is going to be each and every year, and that just helps to tighten up the overall marketplace for our other category.
I think the deal is a reasonable one for us. It’s a significant increase, but it makes a lot of sense financially for both CBS and for the Tour. So we’re very happy with the finances.
Q. Do you think it was smart what the Tour did moving things up ahead of NFL contracts and negotiate first?
SM: Yeah, I’m not sure how much it related to the NFL, but I think the timing right now is good. The golf marketplace is really strong. The image of the sport and the perception of the sport is really strong. So I think the timing was good. I’m not sure how it necessarily relates to the NFL, but I think getting it done when the economy is as strong as it is, and as I said, the advertising marketplace for golf is as strong as it is, I think the timing was good that the Tour established.
Q. This week the Tour and NBC are trying to show every shot live. How far are we away from the ability to do that on a week‑to‑week basis?
SM: I think it’s pretty close. As you know, we did it extremely successfully for the first time at Augusta National, and the results and the reaction were incredibly positive. I think the Tour is committed to getting it done pretty quickly. You’d have to ask them what the exact timetable is, but I think we all understand the technology now. We all understand the value of it. So, I would think it would be part of the regular offering sooner than later, but an exact timetable would have to come from the PGA Tour.
Q. What was your initial reaction to the Tour wanting to have more of an Olympic‑style production where they’re overseeing things?
SM: I think it’s fine. You have to remember that it’s going to be our production team and our talent. So I think that obviously gives us some comfort. But I think, listen, the Tour understands that they need to work really closely with all of the media partners, so I’m very comfortable with it.
I think they’re going to take our guidance and work with us, but I think to serve as many platforms and as many different feeds as they need to, I think it probably makes sense for the Tour to have a larger role in how those feeds are gathered and how they are produced and how they are distributed around the world.
Q. You retained a lot of the traditional golf properties, plus now you’re going to be alternating years on the three-event FedExCup Playoffs with NBC. Do you think that can lead to greater prominence for the Playoffs?
SM: I think it’s a really good idea for the Playoffs. We enjoyed obviously doing the Northern Trust every year, but to have the final two events on one network and the first event on another, I think probably didn’t make a lot of sense, I think, from a promotional standpoint and a branding standpoint, having one network be able to produce and promote, more importantly, all three, I think it’s easier on the viewer. He’ll know where the events are. So I think it’s a really good idea, and to develop the story lines that you want to develop throughout the Playoffs I think is easier for one broadcaster to do than if two are involved in that storytelling and production and promotion.
Q. Will you make any efforts to encourage the Tour Championship to be played on the West Coast when you’re airing it?
SM: Hadn’t really considered that. I think it would be fine if they did. As you know, we’re airing the PGA Championship in primetime this May, so if the Tour Championship moved to the West Coast, I think we’d certainly have discussions about the possibility of doing that in primetime, and I think the West Coast has proved to be a really good venue for numerous major championships. So I would look favorably upon that, sure. We haven’t had discussions with the Tour about that specifically, but I would look upon that favorably, sure.
What is your comfort level and how soon do you think we may see more gaming and use of some of the technology and richer data to support people that are interested in the ability to bet on sports legally?
SM: Yep, I think it’s going to continue to evolve. I think you’ll see more interest in it from the viewers and from the fans. I can’t answer right now how much we’ll integrate it into the broadcast because you have to really be careful. There’s a fine line between supplying some interesting statistics and data that the viewer enjoys. There’s a fine line between that and overburdening the telecast with statistics and gambling information that people who aren’t gambling find intrusive. So I think we need to find that sweet spot on golf and in all sports.
But I think it’s only going to increase the interest in golf, and I think we need to do it in a progressive way that makes sense that doesn’t over-clutter the broadcast with meaningless information.
Q. With the extension that you just had also with Tony Romo and his contract and his growing role in the game of golf, will we occasionally see him on golf telecasts?
SM: No plans right now to have Tony involved. I think Tony wants to play golf more than commentate on golf. But no, there’s nothing in Tony’s deal that talks about him doing golf, and we actually have not had a conversation with him about that, so I would not expect to see that during the term of this deal.
Q. When you played with Jay Monahan last month at TPC Sawgrass, how did you do on the par-3 17th?
SM: I actually parred 17. I hit a shot a little bit long on the left‑hand side. The pin was not far from where it is on Sunday of the Players, and I two‑putted for my par. I must tell you, though, in full disclosure, my non‑pars outweigh my pars on 17.
Q. You’re not alone there.
SM: Yeah, exactly.
Q. What do you feel is the best thing that you were able to gain at the negotiating table in this new deal?
SM: I think protecting the important events on the CBS calendar was a really high priority of ours starting with the West Coast Swing and the other tournaments we have. We wanted to protect our position as the primary broadcast carrier for the PGA Tour. That was important. Obviously the continued support of the title sponsors and of FedEx underpinning were important for us. So those were really the two main priorities. From the time we go off the air at the Final Four until the time we come back on with college football and NFL football, PGA Tour golf and the Masters and the PGA Championship, that’s our primary programming staple, the sport of golf, and the PGA Tour obviously is an incredibly important part of that. So it was really important that we kept the same number of events and the same quality of events that we were able to maintain with the Tour.
Q. Nine years, is that a number that you were pushing for or more the Tour pushing for?
SM: You know, it really came from the Tour. We had said to them, the longer the deal, the better it is for us. And the Tour thought that nine years made sense. We obviously have two more years on the current deal. If they had wanted to go longer, we would certainly have gone longer, but I think nine, with the way the media landscape is changing almost on a daily basis, I think nine years is a good compromise between something even longer and something shorter because no one really knows what’s going to happen to the media landscape in the next 10, 11 years.
The good news is we work closely enough with the Tour, now increasingly more so on production, increasingly more so on sponsorship sales, increasingly more so on promotion, increasingly more so on distribution, that I’m comfortable that there are enough elements in the new deal that protect any new technology that might come along, and a lot of that pertains to the deal they did with ESPN+, a lot of it deals with the auxiliary feeds that we’re doing like the featured groups and the featured holes. So it’s a long‑term deal which gives us security, but I know the Tour is also intent on making sure that we and the other partners really keep up with all the new technology and the different ways of distributing their product, and every shot, every hole is certainly a manifestation of that.
Q. There’s been a lot of talk about the Premier Golf League as an upstart. If that takes flight and 48 of the top players decide to do this, is there some ‘out’ of the deal? Are you protected in any way?
SM: You know, I really can’t get into that, unfortunately, to be honest with you. I would say on the record that there’s no doubt in my mind that the PGA Tour is going to remain the premier golf tour in America and indeed around the world.
Q. How much of an influence did the PGA Tour have in some of the on‑air commentator decisions that you made during the off‑season?
SM: Really none. Those were decisions that we made. We informed the Tour of the decisions, but those were CBS decisions that we made on our own.
Q. With CBS having to pay significantly more in rights fees, should viewers be concerned that you’re going to have to add additional sponsorship and promotional elements to make up that difference?
SM: Definitely not. In fact, we have regular conversations with the Tour about eliminating some of the clutter, so I would say if anything you’re going to see fewer interruptions than more. We’re going to continue to try to do more CBS Eye on the Course, the double box, so you don’t miss live golf action. We and NBC, although sometimes we get criticized, we and NBC run basically the same commercial load. You will not see that expanding in this deal, and if anything we’re going to try to reduce the clutter a little bit. We’ve already reduced the amount of on‑air promotions we do for other programs, and I think we and the Tour are really cognizant of the fact that you want to show as much golf as you possibly can, and the two box is one way to do that, and less clutter is another way to do it. But no, there’s not going to be increased sponsorship or increased commercial inventory in the new deal.
Q. Even though Augusta National has said they’re monitoring coronavirus, now that we’ve seen at least one big event canceled, Indian Wells tennis, can you imagine a Masters without patrons and just maybe members allowed in the gallery or something to that effect?
SM: You know, I can imagine anything. I think it would be very interesting to watch that way. It would have certainly a different feel. But I think the primary draw at the Masters is the golf course and the competition on that golf course, and that theoretically wouldn’t change if there were no patrons. You know, that’s a decision that people at Augusta National will make, and we’ll be there to cover it in whatever form that it takes place.