Ryder Cup's money-making evolution

Fans watch the play on the 17th hole during the fourth preview day of The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on September 27, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois.

MEDINAH, Ill. – It was an afterthought. A money-loser. An event nobody wanted to broadcast. How bad was it? Well, there was the time ABC Sports president Roone Arledge offered to pay the PGA of America $1 million not to broadcast the Ryder Cup.

Mark Kizziar, PGA president in 1983-84, was on the receiving end of Arledge’s proposal. The year was 1982 and Jack Nicklaus was set to captain the U.S. squad for the first time the next year at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. The Ryder Cup was the back-end of a package deal that required ABC to air the biennial event in order to maintain broadcast rights to the PGA Championship.

That’s how much of a dog the Ryder Cup once was. Yet Kizziar declined the seven-figure offer. He envisioned a brighter future for the matches.

“We're not going to take the money because the Ryder Cup will become the crown jewel of professional golf as soon as we get beat,” Kizziar predicted.

Arledge, who created Monday Night Football and made Wide World of Sports one of the most popular shows on TV, had his doubts.

“He said, ‘That's not going to happen,' ” Kizziar recalled, “and I said, ‘Trust me; we're going to get beat.’ ”

Four years later, Europe was coming off its first victory in 28 years, but interest still was lukewarm. Kizziar said John Hines of Jack Nicklaus Productions negotiated a time-buy on ABC Sports for the 1987 Ryder Cup at Muirfield Village. The PGA’s first rights fee? Payday came four years later in 1991, after the U.S. team had suffered its first setback on U.S. soil and Europe had retained the cup with a tie in 1989. Kizziar was right. Enthusiasm for the Ryder Cup had exploded.

NBC Sports ponied up in 1991, and it continues to pay a pretty penny to this day. The network will provide 16 hours of live weekend coverage and nearly 50 hours of news, instruction and original programming on sister station Golf Channel. All told, more than 400 Golf Channel and NBC production staff are working here this week. Nearly 1,000 miles of fiber stretch across Medinah Country Club, connecting to nine production trucks showing images from 66 cameras, including two “robo cams” that are in the water at Nos. 2 and 13 greens. Approximately 600 million households in 198 countries are expected to watch.

Samuel Ryder, who donated the trophy that bears his name, never could have imagined that 11 corporate chalets would someday line the left side of the first fairway alone (there are 76 in all).

The Ryder Cup has become big business. The PGA’s cash cow is expected to draw 240,000 fans and generate $70 million-$80 million in estimated economic impact for DuPage County and $130 million in the entire Chicagoland area. (The 2008 Ryder Cup in Louisville, Ky., had an economic impact of $115 million.)

It took 10 tractor-trailers to deliver the components for the 40,000-square-foot merchandise tent. By 9 a.m. Thursday, cash registers were ringing.

“I’d shop now because later the line goes all the way out the door and around the corner,” advised Laura Robinson, who was working the space dedicated to Adidas.

Official patrons American Express provided free shopping bags and RBC had ATMs dishing out cash. Items for sale ranged from $3 for a single logoed golf ball to $300,000 for a Leroy Neiman original painting. PGA officials said more than 200,000 fans are expected to browse the merchandise.

"Sales are brisk and record breaking," according to Jamie Carbone, the PGA’s director of public relations.

Indeed they were. As one male shopper with two hats in hand put it, “I can’t go home with something for me and nothing for my wife.”

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