For the newly launched Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf Tour, the strategy to lure top golfers like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson away from the prestige and stability of the PGA Tour was simple: offer cash, and lots of it.
The arrival of the new circuit and the defection of the stars of the PGA Tour were great interruptions in what has been a stable and even serious sport. But when the first LIV event finally took place outside of London last weekend after months of anticipation, it wasn’t shown on US television. And it’s unlikely that any US network will air LIV events any time soon.
The reason boils down to this: the networks are happy to broadcast the PGA Tour.
“We are positioned as the home of golf in this country,” said Pete Bevacqua, president of NBC Sports, which shows by far the most golf in the United States. “We are not only satisfied where we are, but incredibly satisfied where we are.”
Some golfers couldn’t resist the lure of the new tour, whose events are shorter than those on the PGA Tour (three days instead of four) and offer big payouts, with individual winners receiving $4 million and members of winning teams sharing $3 million. millions, much more. more than most PGA Tour events. Even last place finishers receive $120,000; PGA Tour players who don’t make the cut after two rounds get nothing.
But the LIV tour went nowhere with those who may have broadcast its events in the United States. LIV Golf representatives spoke with most of the U.S. broadcasters but did not hold substantive discussions about a media rights deal with any of them, according to people familiar with those discussions. LIV broached the idea of buying time to show the London tournament on Fox, a reversal of the normal business relationship, where the media company pays the sports organization to show its event, but discussions didn’t go far.
In the end, the London tournament was not broadcast on US television or popular sports streaming platforms like Peacock and ESPN+. Instead, golf fans could watch it on the streaming service DAZN, YouTube, Facebook, or the LIV Golf website, commercial-free.
The limited audience numbers suggest that not many of them made it. The final round of the London event drew an average of 68,761 viewers on YouTube and fewer than 5,000 on Facebook, according to Apex Marketing, a sports and entertainment analytics firm. The same weekend, 812,000 viewers watched the final round of the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open on Golf Channel, with 2.78 million watching when coverage switched to CBS.
The absence of a media rights deal would normally threaten the survival of a new sports league. But LIV Golf is not a commercial entity with a profit imperative. It is financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and is part of a larger effort by the kingdom to improve its image around the world. Players who have joined the LIV tour have been accused of helping “sportswash” Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
LIV did not respond to a request for comment.
But NBC and other broadcast networks have a long list of reasons besides reputational damage to stay away from the new venture.
LIV’s main barrier to entry in the United States is that most major media companies are deeply committed to the success of their competitor, the PGA Tour. NBC, CBS and ESPN are collectively in the first year of a nine-year, more than $6 billion deal to show the PGA Tour in the United States, while Warner Bros. Discovery (owner of TNT and TBS) is paying the PGA Tour $2 billion to show the tour around the world.
The media companies are not contractually restricted from showing LIV, according to people familiar with the deals, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deals. But they believe doing so would divert attention from the tour they are spending billions on.
Fox, which has a history of taking risks in sports (it’s currently investing in spring football), might seem like a good candidate to partner with LIV, but Fox doesn’t televise any golf, and that’s by design. The network had the rights to broadcast the US Open until 2026, but paid money to assign those rights to NBC.
Even if the networks wanted to take a chance on LIV Golf, the logistical challenges would be significant. Golf monopolizes entire weekends throughout the year and is more expensive to produce than arena- and stadium-based sports. (Golf presents a particularly difficult hurdle for Fox, which rarely puts sports on its streaming service, Tubi, meaning it’s hard to show golf when schedules collide.)
LIV Golf also had no stars on board until recently, and it’s unclear if it will attract enough top golfers to make its events appealing to fans. Questions about tour support. have been uncomfortable for those who have joined.
“I would ask any player who has left or any player who would ever consider leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?'” Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, said in a statement. televised. interview Sunday.
Players who have signed contracts with LIV have been banned from the PGA Tour, though that could soon become the subject of litigation. Sponsors have also removed players, either because of the association with Saudi Arabia or because the companies do not want to support golfers who compete on a circuit that few see.
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A new series. The new LIV Golf series, financed by Saudi Arabia and followed by controversy, held its first event in June. But what is this? Who is playing it? What is all the fuss and how can you see it? This is what you should know:
Still, many of those involved in dealing with the PGA Tour media recognized that interest in the PGA Tour would wane if LIV attracted more top golfers. They believe the appeal of the PGA Tour is that the world’s best golfers compete against each other every weekend, and LIV is directly threatening that.
LIV’s future may depend in part on whether LIV players can play in the four major golf tournaments, none of which are organized by the PGA Tour. The Augusta National Golf Club hosts the Masters; the United States Golf Association organizes the US Open; the Professional Golfers Association of America runs the PGA Championship; and the R&A organizes the British Open.
If allowed to compete in the majors, LIV golfers could earn big money on the less demanding LIV tour while continuing to play in legacy-defining events in front of millions of fans.
“Majors are extremely important to professional golfers, and they will be a key variable whether this is successful or not,” said David Levy, the former president of Turner Sports who created Match, a high-stakes golf showcase.
This year’s third major, the US Open, takes place at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, this weekend, and LIV golfers are in attendance. The USGA, which organizes the tournament, said in a carefully worded statement last week that any qualified golfer would be allowed to compete. But the USGA said its decision “should not be interpreted as the USGA endorsing an alternative organizing entity,” and on Wednesday, the organization’s executive director, Mike Whan, said he could foresee a day when players to the US Open. depending on the tour they come from.
The other majors have not said whether they will exclude LIV golfers from their events. These tournaments have also not said whether they will continue to extend lifetime invites to players who have won them. (Mickelson has lifetime exemptions from the Masters and PGA Championship, for example.) Decisions are expected this fall and winter as plans for tournaments in 2023 solidify.
A sometimes overlooked golfing body, the Official World Golf Ranking, is also expected to have an influence. The organization awards ranking points to golfers based on their performance, and tournaments use those rankings to determine eligibility. Currently, LIV golfers do not receive ranking points, which means they will inevitably drop in the world rankings and lose their eligibility to compete in the majors.
LIV has said that it will submit an application to classify its events. That request will be considered by the board of directors of the Official World Golf Ranking, whose president is Peter Dawson, a former English professional golfer. The board also includes representatives from each of the four majors, along with the PGA Tour, the European Tour and the International Federation of PGA Tours, an umbrella organization of professional golf tours.
While the PGA Tour will almost certainly vote against LIV’s request, it’s less certain how the other tours will vote. And even if they also vote no, if all representatives of the four majors vote to allow LIV golfers to accumulate ranking points and thus indicate that they are comfortable with LIV golfers competing in their events, LIV Golf could be able to attract more golfers.