The forthcoming Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson Thanksgiving 18-hole “The Match” showdown will be produced by Turner and distributed across a wide range of AT&T/Warner Media properties, from preview and shoulder programming on HBO and Bleacher Report to the actual event pay-per-view on AT&T, DirecTV, potentially other providers and B/R Live to a later reair on TNT. We now have more details on the price of the pay-per-view broadcast, with Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand including in his in-depth report on the deal that Turner “is expected to charge viewers less than $30” and numerous people (including media reporter Jim Miller) tweeting about it being $24.99 (although ESPN’s Darren Rovell tweeted that “no price has been set yet“). If it is $24.99, that’s an interestingly-low threshold compared to many pay-per-view events in other sports, and one which may reflect some of the challenges of this event.
WWE pay-per-views often cost $50 to $60 or more before extra fees (often $10) for high definition , while many UFC ones come in at $65. Boxing ones vary, with some cheaper options, but big fights like last fall’s Canelo-GGG match ($69.99) and last summer’s Mayweather-McGregor bout ($89.95 before HD) tend to have a very high price. So this is pretty low in relation to the wider pay-per-view market, but that may make some sense here. For one thing, putting this on Thanksgiving weekend means there’s going to be a lot of “free” (broadcast or included with a monthly cable subscription) sports events in competition for viewers here, especially from college football and the NFL: keeping the PPV price down may mean that fewer potential viewers opt to just watch free football instead.
For another thing boxing, wrestling and MMA all have a long history of premium PPV events, and of people willing to pay for those. But that’s a concept far less established in golf, so there’s a need to get fans on board with the idea of directly paying to watch a golf event on TV; a lower price should make that easier. And beyond this event’s importance in its own right, it’s also something that could lead to more PPV golf events if it goes well enough; maybe that incentivizes the companies involved to set a lower price in hopes this will draw good viewership and serve as a successful proof-of-concept.
The other thing to consider is that with golf, there’s perhaps a greater chance of much of the broadcast being uncompetitive. Yes, boxing and MMA PPV fights sometimes have quick knockouts, but that’s usually not seen as all that bad of an outcome, given that some fans specifically watch for knockouts. And it should be noted that boxing, wrestling and MMA events often tend to have significant undercards before the main event; even if the main event turns out to be a dud, there’s sometimes some value from those other clashes.
But in head-to-head golf, if one of these guys pulls out to a major lead early on, a lot of this event could be pretty uninteresting, and that could lead to people complaining. There are already some on-broadcast measures to mitigate this, such as the chances of Woods-Mickelson side bets (which could be competitive even if the overall match isn’t), but the pricing also may mitigate that; those complaints are probably going to be less loud and less prevalent over a $25 event than a $60 one.
It’s also worth discussing how this fits into AT&T’s larger strategy, and into the new media world where scale is of such importance (which is what led to AT&T buying Turner parent Time Warner and creating the new Warner Media, although that’s still under appeal). This sees a whole ton of different AT&T divisions pulling together, from AT&T and DirecTV’s television services to Turner Sports’ production to HBO and Bleacher Report’s shoulder programming to B/R Live’s streaming service to TNT’s cable coverage. And Turner president David Levy had a lot to say to Ourand about how that might be a model for the future, and how while their portfolio doesn’t include a traditional over-the-air network, that shouldn’t prevent them from being a major rights player:
“This is not about a linear platform,” said Turner President David Levy. “This is about a digital platform — extensions into OTT, great brands like HBO and Warner Bros., AT&T’s 100 million mobile subscribers. That is a powerful portfolio as we talk about going into securing whatever rights come up next.”
“There’s a new mantra at WarnerMedia and how we’re going to work together and evolve. …We all know that the success for this company moving forward is going to be to figure out ways to work more closely together.”
“Even Warner Bros. is thinking about ways we can work as well,” Levy said. “This is our complete portfolio. I took a Fabergé egg and put it in the middle of the table and said let’s figure out how we can get all this done. … This is a very good demonstration of how we think sports should be watched, viewed and discussed.”
We’ll see how this event turns out for AT&T and Turner, but they’re certainly making some interesting moves with it, from pricing to shoulder programming to corporate synergy. And it’s going to be worth keeping an eye on how well it performs, and what that means for the media landscape.