USA, Golf Channel Drive Ryder Express

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As USA Network stands in the crossfire of advertising and exclusivity issues surrounding its coverage of The Masters (see Multichannel News, Sept. 9, p. 3), another prestigious event on the channel's golf schedule is catching nothing but green — as in ad-sales revenue.

At least nine blue-chip sponsors have signed on for USA's two-day presentation of the Ryder Cup, the biennial tournament slated for Sept. 26 to Sept. 27 from The Belfry course in England.

Separately, more than 40 affiliates of The Golf Channel have sold 82 local advertiser sponsorships linked with the network's own Ryder Cup plans.

USA's ad-sales revenue from this year's coverage is on track to outpace the results from the last Ryder presentation in 1999, said USA president of ad sales Jeff Lucas, who wouldn't disclose a dollar amount or percentage increase.

"We have a few avails left, and that's it," he added.

USA will present the two-hour opening ceremonies Sept. 26 and provide 10 hours of first-round coverage the following day; NBC has rights to the event's weekend finale. The competition engages two teams of golfers — one from the U.S. and the other comprised of select European players — in a set of best-ball matches. Masters and U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods is among the U.S. team members.

Ryder organizers cancelled the event in 2001, out of sensitivity over what transpired last Sept. 11. The competition alternates between courses overseas and in the United States.

USA's charter 2002 Cup sponsors include Microsoft Corp., BMW, Fortune Brands Inc. (makers of Titleist golf equipment), Siemens Corp., AIG and General Motors Corp. Several advertisers are back from USA's 1999 presentation.

'Crown Jewel'

"From the advertiser's standpoint, as well as the viewer's standpoint, it's a special golf viewing opportunity because you don't get this kind of format every year," said Lucas. "It's a crown jewel of the sport, with the best of the best. The interest is there, and the revenue increase is there too."

USA affiliates receive several minutes per hour both days for local sales and promotion.

The promotional centerpiece for Golf Channel is "Quest for the Cup," a sweepstakes in which local sponsors distribute "scratch and win" cards to their customers. Lucky cardholders can win golf-related merchandise or memorabilia, all provided through the network.

With a package of 250 playing cards for distribution, local sponsors playing Golf Channel's Quest card determine who gets to play and under what circumstances. For example, a participating auto dealer's customers may get a card after they take a test drive, or local duffers can pick one up if they score a birdie or better on a designated hole. Whatever the circumstance, no purchase is required.

On-screen, Golf Channel will offer scoring updates throughout the tournament, pre- and post-round highlights and analysis on its daily Golf Central
program, live player news conferences, and past Cup tournament highlight recaps. BMW is the lead sponsor for Golf Channel's Ryder segments.

In 2004, when Cup play returns stateside, Lucas sees an outreach opportunity link, based on the set of PGA Tour clinics co-conducted with USA in several cities this year. The first five-week clinic, co-sponsored with Time Warner Cable, kicked off in Orlando, Fla., in March.

The idea is to introduce youngsters of color to the game, while adding a public-service dimension to USA's golf lineup.

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