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The NBA tried taking on the NFL on Christmas Day and football burned basketball like neglected burgers on a grill. Recognizing that the episode was pretty much par for the course, the PGA Tour did the sensible thing: It turned tail and ran like (Editor’s note: Gratuitous but cute video link ahead) kangaroos on a golf course.

That’s why CBS is bumping the 6 o’clock news to show three hours of the Farmers Insurance Open on Friday and making the tournament vanish on Sunday.

Do not take on the NFL or risk a pummeling

General view of the ninth hole during the first round of The Farmers Insurance Open on the North Course at Torrey Pines Golf Course on Jan. 26, 2022, in La Jolla, California. | Donald Miralle/Getty Images
General view of the ninth hole during the first round of The Farmers Insurance Open on the North Course at Torrey Pines Golf Course on Jan. 26, 2022, in La Jolla, California. | Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Christmas fell on a Saturday at the end of 2021. Santa brought football fans a couple of NFL games, which means he also brought the NBA’s broadcast partners a lump of coal.

The NFL has a history of moving some December games to Saturdays once the college football regular season ends. This season, it dished up a Christmas Day doubleheader featuring the Cleveland Browns at the Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts at the Arizona Cardinals.

The effect on the NBA, which has made a tradition of playing multiple games on Dec. 25 to take advantage of a slow sports schedule, was significant. According to Sports Business Journal, the NBA averaged 4.1 million viewers for the five games on ABC and ESPN, translating to the smallest audience since the league turned the day into a quintupleheader across multiple networks in 2008.

Most notably, the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Brooklyn Nets in an 8 p.m. tipoff that went head-to-head with the Colts-Cardinals game on the NFL Network, drew 5.8 million viewers, down from the 7 million who saw the Lakers play the Dallas Mavericks the year before in the opening week of a covid-delayed season. The most telling number, though, was the 26.8 million viewers that the NFL game pulled in. The PGA took one look at that and knew it was doing the right thing by moving the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open away from the conference championship games doubleheader.

The PGA Tour faced two issues with the Farmers Insurance Open

The annual tournament in San Diego usually has everything the PGA Tour and its players could want: California sunshine in January on a quality course, supported by big-name sponsors and television deals. Best of all, however, the Farmers Insurance Open typically in the week between the NFL’s conference title games and the Super Bowl.

But just like a sliced tee shot at Torrey Pines is sure to land golfers in the rough, the NFL put the tournament into the weeds by adding a week to the 2021 regular season. The calendar shift meant the Farmers Insurance Open landed on the same weekend as the Cincinnati Bengals vs. the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Los Angeles Rams.

It was a double-whammy for the PGA Tour and tournament officials: Not only would Sunday’s round be competing for eyeballs with one of the NFL playoff games, but also CBS would be carrying one of the games.

With the network showing the AFC Championship Game from 3-6:30 p.m. ET, the PGA couldn’t schedule the final round at Torrey Pines on Sunday in such a way as to air it in a meaningful way.

The solution turned out to be easy enough, and there could even be an unexpected bonus.

The Farmers Insurance Open starts and finishes a day early

What started as the San Diego Open in 1952 has gone through a variety of sponsors and name changes. The tournament moved to Torrey Pines in 1968 and has been the Farmers Insurance Open since 2010. For all the changes, the 2022 tournament is the first to operate on a Wednesday-to-Saturday schedule.

The move required organizers to cancel the traditional Wednesday pro-am, inflicting a hit of more than $1 million, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Sponsors agreed to make up the difference.

Consequently, CBS still gets weekend coverage of Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau, and Phil Mickelson. To make it work, though, the network will make the unusual move of offering its affiliates coverage of Friday’s third round from 5-8 p.m. ET. That’s a block of time when most TV stations typically televise local news and syndicated programs like Jeopardy!

Saturday’s final round will air from 4-8 p.m. ET, another unusual airtime window, but less disruptive because it’s the weekend. It’s all potentially confusing for golf fans, but at least the tournament makes it onto television.

There is one potential benefit that could turn into a windfall for the network. If Saturday’s final round is suspended by darkness or weather, it can be completed Sunday morning. CBS likely would be happy to pre-empt scheduled programming ahead of its NFL pregame show.

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