For the Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf Tour, the best golfers like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson were an easy strategy to move away from the prestige and stability of the PGA Tour: offering cash and lots.
The arrival of the new tour and the failure of the stars of the PGA Tour were major interruptions in this stable and even more stable sport. But when the first LIV event took place outside London last weekend after months of forecasting, it was not shown on U.S. television. And it is unlikely that any American network will soon broadcast LIV events.
The reason is that 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, the largest golf show in the United States. “Not only are we happy where we are, we’re also very happy where we are.”
Some golfers have been unable to keep up with the appeal of the new tour, whose events are shorter than the PGA Tour (more than three days four) and offer high payouts, with individual winners receiving $ 4 million and members of winning teams sharing $ 3 million, far . More than most PGA Tour events. The last qualifiers also get $ 120,000; PGA Tour players who don’t make cuts after two rounds get nothing.
But the LIV tour got nowhere to go with those who could broadcast their events in the United States. Representatives of the LIV Gulf spoke to most of the American speakers, but did not discuss the media rights agreement with any of them, according to people who knew those discussions. LIV spread the idea of buying time to show the London Championship at Fox – the opposite of a normal business relationship, where the media company pays the sports organization to show its event – but the discussions didn’t go far.
In the end, the London Championship was not on American television or on popular sports streaming platforms like Peacock and ESPN +. Instead, golf fans could watch DAZN, YouTube, Facebook or LIV Golf’s website on the streaming service without ads.
The limited number of viewers suggests that many of them were not. The final quarter of the London event attracted an average of 68,761 viewers on YouTube and less than 5,000 on Facebook, according to Apex Marketing, a sports and entertainment analytics firm. Over the same weekend, 812,000 viewers watched the final round of the Canadian Open on the PGA Tour on the Golf Channel, and 2.78 million watched the coverage aired on CBS.
Failure to reach an agreement on media rights would normally jeopardize the survival of a new sports league. But LIV Golf is not a for-profit business entity. It is funded 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 they have been accused of helping to “clean up the sport” Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights violations, including the assassination 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 not to damage their reputation for moving away from the new business.
The main obstacle for LIV to enter the United States is that most major media companies are invested in the success of their competitor, the PGA Tour. NBC, CBS and ESPN are in the first year of a nine-year, $ 6 billion deal to showcase the U.S. PGA Tour, and Warner Bros. Discovery (owner of TNT and TBS) is paying $ 2 billion for the PGA Tour to tour the world.
Media companies have no limit to showing LIV through contracts, according to people familiar with the agreements, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private agreements. But they believe that doing so would divert attention from the billions they are spending.
Fox, which has a history of risk-taking in sports (currently investing in spring football), seems like a good candidate to join the LIV, but Fox doesn’t provide golf TV, and that’s by design. The network had rights to broadcast the U.S. Open until 2026, but paid for the money to give NBC those rights.
Even if the networks wanted to take advantage of LIV Golf, the logistical challenges would be significant. Golf monopolizes all weekends throughout the year and production is more expensive than sports based on pitches and stadiums. (Golf is a particularly difficult hurdle for Fox, as he rarely puts sports on his streaming service, Tubi, which makes it difficult to show golf when schedules collide).
LIV Golf also didn’t have a star on the board until recently, and it’s not clear whether it will attract top golfers to make its events more appealing to fans. Questions about route protection they 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? ’” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said on television. interview on Sunday.
Players who have signed contracts with LIV have been removed from the PGA Tour, although that could soon become a litigation issue. Sponsors have also ruled out players because of their association with Saudi Arabia or because golfers are competing on a tour that they see as unwilling to help.
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However, many involved in the PGA Tour media deal agreed that the interest in the PGA Tour would be reduced if the LIV attracted more top golfers. They believe that the appeal of the PGA Tour is that the best golfers in the world compete against each other every weekend, and that LIV is directly threatening them.
The future of LIV may depend in part on whether LIV players are allowed to play in four major golf tournaments, none of which are run by the PGA Tour. It hosts the Augusta National Golf Club Masters; The United States Golf Association organizes the US Open; The American Professional Golfers Association runs the PGA Tour; and R&A puts on the British Open.
If they are allowed to compete in the majors, LIV golfers can earn big paychecks on a less tax-free LIV tour as long as they continue to play in events that define heritage in front of millions of fans.
“Levels are very important for professional golfers, and it will be a key variable whether they are successful or not,” said David Levy, former president of Turner Sports, Match, which created the high-stakes golf show.
The third major event this year, the U.S. Open, is at the Brookline (Mass.) Country Club this weekend, and features LIV golfers. The USGA tournament organizer said a carefully written statement he qualified last week to allow any golfer to compete. But USGA stated that its decision “should not be built as USGA supports an alternative organization,” and on Wednesday, the organization’s chief executive, Mike Whan, said he could anticipate a day when players were denied access to the U.S. Open. based on which tour they came from.
The other majors have not said whether they will ban LIV golfers from their events. These tournaments also did not say whether the players who won them would continue to extend invitations for life. (Mickelson has lifelong exceptions to the Masters and PGA Championships, for example.) Decisions are expected in the fall and winter as plans for the 2023 championships are strengthened.
A sometimes overlooked golf course, the Official World Golf Ranking, is also expected to have an impact. The organization gives golfers ranking points based on their performance, and tournaments use these rankings to determine eligibility. Currently, LIV golfers do not receive a ranking point, which means that they will inevitably lose their right to compete in the major world rankings.
LIV has said it will submit an application to classify its events. This request will be considered by the Governing Board of the Official World Golf Rankings, and its chairman is Peter Dawson, a former English golfer. The committee also brings together representatives from the four major federations, the PGA Tour, the European Tour and the International Federation of PGA Tours, an umbrella organization for professional golf courses.
Although the PGA Tour will vote against the LIV app, it’s not certain how the other tour will vote. And even if they vote no, if representatives from the top four vote for LIV golfers to get ranking points – and so LIV golfers express satisfaction with those who compete in their events – LIV Golf may attract more golfers.