LIV Golf, at last, has a television deal.
The new circuit, bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and the catalyst for the turmoil over the last year in men’s professional golf, said Thursday that its 54-hole, no-cut tournaments would air on the CW Network and its app beginning next month.
Although the arrangement is a milestone for LIV, whose tournaments last year were relegated to websites such as YouTube even as it showcased stars like Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Cameron Smith, the deal also underscores the circuit’s short-term limitations and the challenges any alternative league faces during its entry into the American sports market.
America’s top broadcasters were unlikely candidates for LIV. From its start, CBS and NBC appeared virtually certain to keep it off their flagship networks because of their close ties to the PGA Tour. Disney-owned ABC was seen as a seemingly improbable landing spot because ESPN, which Disney also controls, streams many tour events. Another potential suitor, Fox, stepped back from golf coverage in recent years.
LIV and the CW did not immediately disclose the financial terms of the agreement.
“Our new partnership between the CW and LIV Golf will deliver a whole new audience and add to the growing worldwide excitement for the league,” Dennis Miller, the CW’s president, said in a statement. “With CW’s broadcasts and streams, more fans across the country and around the globe can partake in the LIV Golf energy and view its innovative competition that has reimagined the sport for players, fans and the game of golf.”
Any agreement, though, is still a reprieve for LIV, which has spent recent months staring down its skeptics, who cited the absence of a television deal, limited attendance at tournaments and the PGA Tour’s retention of many of the world’s top players. It is hoping that its second season, which will begin with a tournament in Mexico in late February, will lead to fan and financial breakthroughs, especially as it more fully embraces a model that emphasizes franchises.
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In December, when The New York Times disclosed a confidential McKinsey & Company analysis from 2021 that suggested that a Saudi-backed, franchise-filled golf league would face a tricky path to profitability and relevancy, a spokesman for the circuit said LIV was “confident that over the next few seasons, the remaining pieces of our business model will come to fruition as planned.”
The McKinsey analysis considered a television deal a vital ingredient for a league’s success and suggested that the concept that became LIV could earn as much as $410 million from broadcast rights in 2028, if it settled into what it called a “coexistence” with the PGA Tour. But if the league remained mired in “start-up” status, the consultants signaled that it could expect no more than $90 million a year for its broadcast rights in 2028.
In its antitrust case against the PGA Tour, which is not scheduled to go to trial before next January, LIV has used its struggles to secure a television deal as evidence of what it sees as the long-dominant tour’s monopolistic behavior.
The tour, which has television deals that will pay it billions of dollars in the coming years, has denied wrongdoing. But in a filing in August, LIV asserted that the tour had “compromised” its prospects to reach a rights agreement and said that the tour had “threatened sponsors and broadcasters that they must sever their relationships with players who join LIV Golf, or be cut off from having any opportunities with the PGA Tour.”
LIV also said that CBS officials had said “they cannot touch LIV Golf even for consideration” because of the network’s ties to the PGA Tour. (Paramount Global, which controls CBS, holds a minority stake in the CW. The tour also has a contract with Warner Bros. Discovery, another minority stakeholder in the CW.)
LIV’s pursuit of a television deal proved more turbulent — or at least more public — than the last time its chief executive, Greg Norman, tried to build a rival to the PGA Tour. In 1994, when Norman rolled out plans for a new tour, he had buy-in from Fox, which had extended a 10-year commitment. The uprising ended quickly anyway.
Despite the headwinds this time, Norman had projected confidence for months that LIV would secure some kind of contract. In November, he called a television deal “a priority” and predicted that one would be locked down “very, very soon.”