For the Saudi-backed upstart LIV Golf tour, the strategy for luring top golfers like Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson away from the prestige and stability of the PGA Tour was easy: Offer money, and a lot of it.
The arrival of the brand new tour and the defection of PGA Tour stars were major disruptions in what has been a stable and even staid sport. But when the primary LIV event was finally held outside London last weekend after months of anticipation, it was not shown on television in the US. And it’s unlikely that any American network will likely be broadcasting LIV events anytime soon.
The explanation boils right down to this: The networks are joyful airing the PGA Tour.
“We’re positioned because the home of golf on this country,” said Pete Bevacqua, the chairman of the NBC Sports, which shows by far probably the most golf in the US. “We aren’t only satisfied where we’re, but unbelievably pleased where we’re.”
Some golfers couldn’t resist the pull of the brand new tour, whose events are shorter than the PGA Tour’s (three days as an alternative of 4) and offer huge payouts, with individual winners receiving $4 million and the members of winning teams sharing $3 million, way over most PGA Tour events. Even last-place finishers get $120,000; PGA Tour players who don’t make the cut after two rounds get nothing.
However the LIV tour got nowhere with those that may need aired its events in the US. Representatives for LIV Golf spoke with most American broadcasters, but didn’t have substantive discussions a couple of media rights agreement with any of them, in keeping with people accustomed to those discussions. LIV broached the thought of shopping for time to point out the London tournament on Fox — an inversion of the conventional business relationship, where the media company pays the sports organization to point out its event — but discussions didn’t go far.
In the long run, the London tournament was not on American broadcast TV or popular sports streaming platforms comparable to Peacock and ESPN+. As an alternative, golf fans could watch it on the streaming service DAZN, YouTube, Facebook or LIV Golf’s website, without commercials.
Limited viewership numbers suggest not lots of them did. The ultimate round of the London event attracted a median of 68,761 viewers on YouTube and fewer than 5,000 on Facebook, in keeping with Apex Marketing, a sports and entertainment analytics firm. On the identical weekend, 812,000 viewers watched the ultimate round of the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open on Golf Channel, and a pair of.78 million watched when coverage converted to CBS.
The absence of a media rights agreement would normally threaten the survival of a latest sports league. But LIV Golf isn’t a industrial entity with a profit imperative. It’s bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and part of a bigger effort by the dominion to enhance its image world wide. Players who’ve joined the LIV tour have been accused of helping to “sportswash” Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses, including the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
LIV didn’t reply to a request for comment.
But NBC and other broadcast networks have an extended list of reasons aside from reputational damage to avoid the brand new enterprise.
LIV’s most important barrier to entry in the US is that the majority major media corporations are deeply invested within the success of its competitor, the PGA Tour. NBC, CBS and ESPN are collectively in the primary 12 months of a nine-year, $6 billion-plus agreement to point out the PGA Tour in the US, while Warner Bros. Discovery (which owns TNT and TBS) is paying the PGA Tour $2 billion to point out the tour worldwide.
The media corporations aren’t contractually restricted from showing LIV, in keeping with the people accustomed to the deals, who spoke on condition of anonymity to debate private agreements. But they consider that doing so would draw attention away from the tour on which they’re spending billions.
Fox, which has a history of risk-taking in sports (it’s currently investing in spring football), might appear to be an excellent candidate to team up with LIV, but Fox doesn’t televise any golf, and that’s by design. The network had the rights to broadcast the U.S. Open through 2026, but paid money to quit those rights to NBC.
Even when networks desired to take a probability on LIV Golf, the logistical challenges could be significant. Golf monopolizes entire weekends all year long and is costlier to supply than arena- and stadium-based sports. (Golf presents a very difficult hurdle for Fox, which rarely puts sports on its streaming service, Tubi, meaning it’s difficult to point out golf when schedules collide.)
LIV Golf also didn’t have any stars on board until recently, and it isn’t clear whether it’ll attract enough top golfers to make its events attractive to fans. Questions on the tour’s backing have been uncomfortable for individuals who have joined.
“I might ask any player who has left or any player who would ever consider leaving, ‘Have you ever ever needed to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?’” Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, said in a televised interview Sunday.
Players who’ve signed contracts with LIV have been booted from the PGA Tour, though that would soon turn into the topic of litigation. Players have also been dropped by sponsors, either due to association with Saudi Arabia or because corporations don’t need to support golfers competing on a tour few are watching.
A Quick Guide to the LIV Golf Series
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A latest series. The brand new Saudi-financed, controversy-trailed LIV Golf series held its first event in June. But what’s it? Who’s playing it? What’s all of the hubbub, and how are you going to watch it? Here’s what to know:
What’s LIV Golf? The series is an upstart skilled golf circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Its organizers hope to position it as a player-power-focused alternative to the PGA Tour, which has been the very best level of professional golf for nearly a century.
Who’s playing it? The 48 players within the initial LIV Golf event weren’t exactly a who’s who of golf, and lots of of the most important names in the game, comparable to Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have stayed away. But there have been big names and former major champions, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Sergio García.
What’s attracting the players? The LIV Golf events are the richest tournaments in golf history. The primary tournament’s total purse was $25 million, and the winner’s share was $4 million. The last-place finisher at each event was guaranteed $120,000. That’s on top of the looks fees and nine-figure signing-on payouts some players have accepted.
How can I watch the brand new tour? Despite its high-profile golfers and its big-money backing, LIV Golf has not yet secured a broadcast rights agreement in the US and will likely be shown on lesser-watched streaming services in much of the world. In the US, this week’s tournament will likely be available via live streams on LIVGolf.com, YouTube and Facebook.
Still, lots of those involved within the PGA Tour media deal acknowledged that interest within the PGA Tour would decrease if LIV lured away more top golfers. They consider the PGA Tour’s appeal lies on this planet’s best golfers competing against each other every weekend, and LIV is directly threatening that.
LIV’s future may depend partly on whether LIV players are allowed to play within the 4 major golf tournaments — none of which is run by the PGA Tour. Augusta National Golf Club hosts the Masters; the US Golf Association stages the U.S. Open; the Skilled Golfers Association of America runs the P.G.A. Championship; and the R & A puts on the British Open.
If allowed to compete in majors, LIV golfers could earn huge paydays on the less-taxing LIV tour while continuing to play within the legacy-defining events in front of hundreds of thousands of fans.
“Majors are extremely vital to skilled golfers, they usually will likely be a key variable whether that is successful or not,” said David Levy, a former president of Turner Sports who created the Match, a high-stakes golf exhibition.
This 12 months’s third major, the U.S. Open, is on the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., this weekend, and LIV golfers are present. The usG.A., which organizes the tournament, said in a rigorously worded statement last week that any golfer who had qualified could be allowed to compete. But the usG.A. noted that its decision “shouldn’t be construed as the usG.A. supporting an alternate organizing entity,” and on Wednesday, the organization’s chief executive, Mike Whan, said that he could foresee a day when players were denied entry to the U.S. Open based on which tour they got here from.
The opposite majors haven’t said whether they may bar LIV golfers from their events. Nor have these tournaments said whether they may proceed to increase lifetime invitations to players who’ve won them. (Mickelson has exemptions from the Masters and P.G.A. Championship for all times, as an example.) Decisions are expected this fall and winter as plans are solidified for tournaments in 2023.
A sometimes neglected golf body, the Official World Golf Rating, can also be expected to have influence. The organization bestows rating points on golfers based on their performance, and tournaments use those rankings to find out eligibility. Currently, LIV golfers don’t receive rating points, meaning they may inevitably fall on this planet rankings and lose their eligibility to compete within the majors.
LIV has said it’ll submit an application to have its events ranked. That application will likely be considered by the governing board of the Official World Golf Rating, whose chairman is Peter Dawson, an English former skilled golfer. The board also includes representatives from each of the 4 majors, together with the PGA Tour, the European Tour and the International Federation of PGA Tours, an umbrella organization of skilled golf tours.
While the PGA Tour will almost definitely vote against LIV’s application, it’s less certain how the opposite tours will vote. And even when additionally they vote no, if representatives from the 4 majors all vote to permit LIV’s golfers to accrue rating points — and due to this fact signal they’re comfortable with LIV golfers competing of their events — LIV Golf might just reach attracting more golfers.