Woods-Mickelson golf duel lets AT&T show its new media prowess

Tiger Woods in action. (Bloomberg pic)

NEW YORK: AT&T Inc. acquired the TV rights to a rare head-to-head golf match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, an early sign of how the telecom giant plans to flex its newfound media muscle after the US$85 billion purchase of Time Warner Inc.

AT&T’s newly acquired HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner Broadcasting will broadcast the match between the two famous golfers on Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas on DirecTV and its other platforms.

The event is groundbreaking in a number of ways. It aims to bring the boxing pay-per-view model to golf, pitting the sport’s biggest stars against each other — without the distraction of a leaderboard, multiple rounds or those pesky other players. And it’s serving as a test for whether AT&T made a smart deal in acquiring Time Warner’s sprawling media operations.

AT&T has gambled that combining TV programming with its existing distribution networks — including satellite TV and wireless access — can give it an edge in a cutthroat media and telecom landscape. The AT&T-Time Warner deal closed in June after the antitrust enforcers lost their legal battle to block it.

AT&T’s two pay-TV services, DirecTV and U-verse, and Turner’s new sports streaming service, B/R Live, will sell a live pay-per-view broadcast of the duel, with the price still to be determined. Meanwhile, HBO will have coverage leading up to the match, Turner’s TNT cable network will show select content after it’s over, and Turner’s Bleacher Report will show highlights and behind-the-scenes content.

Ratings Resurgence
Woods and Mickelson are longtime rivals, though Woods has won far more major tournaments. The winner will take home US$9 million — an extraordinary sum for a golf purse. Their match is reminiscent of a 1999 duel between Woods and David Duval, who was the No. 2 ranked golfer at the time. Woods won that showdown, which aired in prime time on a Monday night. The ratings topped the Yankees and Mets games on cable that night.

Since Woods returned to the game this year after his fourth back surgery, golf’s TV ratings have soared. CBS said this month that its broadcast of the PGA championship — which Woods nearly won — scored the highest rating for a final round since 2009.