For the Saudi-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 money, and lots of it.
The arrival of the new tour and the departure of the PGA Tour stars were major disruptions to what had been a stable and even balanced sport. But when the first LIV event finally took place outside London over the weekend after months of waiting, it was not televised in the United States. And it’s unlikely that any American network will be airing LIV events anytime soon.
The reason boils down to this: the networks are happy with the PGA Tour airing.
“We are positioned as the birthplace of golf in this country,” said Pete Bevacua, chairman of NBC Sports, which shows the most golf in the United States. “We are not only happy with where we are, but incredibly happy with who we are.”
Some golfers haven’t been able to resist the lure of a new tour that is shorter than the PGA Tour (three days instead of four) and offers huge payouts: individual winners get $4 million and members of the winning teams share $3 million. . much larger than most PGA Tour events. Even those who finish in last place receive $120,000; PGA Tour players who fail to qualify after two rounds receive nothing.
But the LIV tour went nowhere for those who could broadcast its events in the United States. Representatives from LIV Golf spoke to most of the US broadcasters, but according to people familiar with the discussions, they did not have substantive discussions with any of them about the media rights agreement. LIV floated the idea of buying time to air the London tournament on Fox – a reversal of business as usual when a media company pays a sports organization to air its event – but the discussions didn’t go far.
After all, the London tournament was not broadcast on US television or popular sports streaming platforms such as Peacock and ESPN+. Instead, golf enthusiasts could watch it on the DAZN streaming service, YouTube, Facebook, or the LIV Golf website without ads.
The limited number of viewers suggests that not many of them made it. The final round of the London event drew an average of 68,761 viewers on YouTube and less than 5,000 viewers on Facebook, according to Apex Marketing, a sports and entertainment analytics firm. That same weekend, 812,000 viewers watched the final round of the Canadian Open PGA Tour on the Golf Channel, with 2.78 million viewers watching when coverage switched to CBS.
The absence of a media rights agreement usually threatens the survival of a new sports league. But LIV Golf is not a profit-making business venture. It is funded by the Saudi Arabian Sovereign Wealth Fund and part of a larger kingdom effort improve your image worldwide. Players who joined the LIV tour were accused of helping “sports laundry” The story of human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, 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, beyond reputational damage, to stay away from a new venture.
The main barrier to LIV’s entry into the United States is that most of the major media companies are deeply invested in the success of their rival, the PGA Tour. NBC, CBS and ESPN spend first year together nine-year deal worth over $6 billion show the PGA tour in the US, and Warner Bros. Discovery (which owns TNT and TBS) $2 billion PGA Tour payout show tour around the world.
Contracted media companies are not restricted from showing LIV, according to people familiar with the deals, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deals. But they believe it will detract from the tour, which they are spending billions on.
Fox, which has always taken risks in the sport (it currently invests in spring football), might seem like a good candidate to merge with LIV, but Fox is not into golf television, and that is by design. The network had the right to broadcast the US Open until 2026, but paid money for waive those rights to NBC.
Even if chains are willing to take a chance on the LIV Golf, the logistical challenges will be significant. Golf monopolizes entire weekends throughout the year and is more expensive to produce than sports in arenas and stadiums. (Golf presents a particularly difficult hurdle for Fox, which rarely hosts sports on its Tubi streaming service, meaning it’s hard to show golf when the schedules overlap.)
Until recently, LIV Golf has also had no stars on board and it is unclear if it will attract enough top golfers to make its events attractive to fans. Questions about accompanying the tour it was uncomfortable for those who join.
“I would ask any player who has left, or any player who has ever considered leaving, “Have you ever had to apologize for being on the PGA Tour?” said Jay Monahan, PGA Tour commissioner. on television. interview on Sunday.
LIV-signed players have been kicked out of the PGA Tour, although this could soon be the subject of a lawsuit. Sponsors have also dropped players, either because of the association with Saudi Arabia or because the companies don’t want to support golfers on a tour that few people follow.
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However, many of those involved in the PGA Tour media deal acknowledged that interest in the PGA Tour would dwindle if the LIV poached more top golfers. They believe the attraction of the PGA Tour is that the best golfers in the world compete against each other every weekend, and the LIV directly threatens that.
The future of the LIV may depend in part on whether LIV players are allowed to play in the four major golf tournaments, none of which are on the PGA Tour. Augusta National Golf Club hosts the Masters; The US Golf Association runs the US Open; The American Professional Golfers Association holds the PGA Championship; and R&A bets on the British Open.
If they were allowed to play in major tournaments, LIV golfers could earn huge amounts of money on the less taxed LIV tour while continuing to play in heritage-defining tournaments in front of millions of fans.
“The mainstreams are extremely important to professional golfers and they will be a key variable whether it is successful or not,” said David Levy, former president of Turner Sports, which created Match, the high-stakes golf trade show.
This year’s third major tournament, the US Open, is taking place at the Country Club in Brooklyn, Massachusetts this weekend, with LIV players in attendance. This is stated in the message of the USGA, which organizes the tournament. carefully worded statement Last week, any qualified golfer will be eligible to compete. But the USGA noted that its decision “should not be construed as USGA support for an alternative organizational structure,” and on Wednesday, the organization’s executive director, Mike Wang, said that he could foresee the day when players were denied entry to the US Open because of which tour they were on.
Other major companies have not said if they will ban LIV players from their events. These tournaments also do not state whether they will continue to provide lifetime invitations to the players who win them. (For example, Mickelson is banned from the Masters and PGA Championship for life.) Decisions are expected this fall and winter as tournament plans for 2023 are finalized.
The sometimes overlooked body of golf, the Official World Golf Rankings, is also expected to have an impact. The organization awards ranking points to golfers based on their performance, and tournaments use these rankings to determine eligibility. Currently, LIV golf players do not receive ranking points, which means that they will inevitably fall in the world rankings and lose the right to participate in major tournaments.
LIV has stated that it will apply for the ranking of its events. This application will be reviewed by the governing board of the Official World Golf Rankings, chaired by Peter Dawson, a former professional golfer from England. The board also includes representatives from each of the four major companies, as well as the PGA Tour, European Tour, and PGA Tours International Federation, the umbrella organization for professional golf tours.
While the PGA Tour will almost certainly vote against the LIV bid, it’s less clear how the other tours will vote. And even if they also vote no, if all the representatives of the four main players vote in favor of allowing LIV players to score ranking points – and thus show that they are happy with LIV players competing in their events – LIV Golf may just succeed in attracting more golfers.