For the Saudi-backed upstart 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 is simple: Offer cash, and a lot .
The arrival of a new tour and the betrayal of PGA Tour stars has wreaked havoc on a stable and even staid sport. But when the first LIV event finally took place outside London last weekend after months of anticipation, it wasn’t on American TV. It’s unlikely any US network will air the LIV event anytime soon.
The reason boils down to this: Networks are happy to air the PGA Tour.
“We’re positioned to be the golf home of this country,” said Pete Bevacqua, president of NBC Sports, which showcases the most golf in the United States to date. “We’re not just happy with where we’re at, but incredibly happy with where we’re at.”
Some golfers can’t resist the appeal of the new tour, which is shorter than the PGA Tour (three days instead of four) and offers huge prize money, with individual winners taking home $4 million to be shared by members of the winning team $3 million, far more than most PGA Tour events. Even the last-place player gets $120,000; PGA Tour players who don’t make the cut after two rounds get nothing.
But the LIV tour went nowhere among those likely to air its event in the US. Representatives for LIV Golf have spoken with most ABC broadcasters, but have not had substantive discussions with any of them about a media rights deal, according to people familiar with the matter. LIV floated the idea of buying time to show the London Championship on Fox — a reversal of normal business relationships, in which media companies pay sports organizations to show their events — but the discussions didn’t go very far.
Ultimately, the London Championship didn’t appear on US broadcast television or on popular sports streaming platforms like Peacock and ESPN+. Instead, golf fans can watch it on streaming services DAZN, YouTube, Facebook or LIV Golf’s website without ads.
The limited viewership suggests that not many of them did. 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 sports and entertainment analytics firm Apex Marketing. That same weekend, 812,000 viewers watched the final round of the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open on Golf Channel, and 2.78 million when coverage switched to CBS.
The lack of media rights agreements often threatens the very existence of new sports leagues. 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 country to improve its global image.Players on the LIV Tour Accused of helping ‘sports reshuffle’ Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights abuses, including the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
LIV did not respond to a request for comment.
But beyond the reputational damage, NBC and other broadcast networks have a long list of reasons to avoid new ventures.
The main obstacle to LIV’s entry into the U.S. is that most major media companies have invested heavily in the success of their rivals, the PGA Tour. NBC, CBS and ESPN are in a nine-year deal worth more than $6 billion to host the PGA Tour in the U.S., while Warner Bros. Discovery (which owns TNT and TBS) pays the tour $200 million Showcase the world tour.
Media companies are not contractually restricted in showing LIV, according to people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to discuss private agreements. But they argue that doing so will draw attention to their multibillion-dollar tour.
Fox, which has a history of risk-taking in sports (it’s currently investing in spring football), looks like it might be a good candidate to partner with LIV, but Fox doesn’t broadcast any golf, which is by design. The network has rights to broadcast the U.S. Open until 2026, but paid to give up those rights to NBC.
Even if the network wanted to take the plunge on LIV Golf, the logistical challenges would be enormous. Golf has a monopoly over the entire weekend year-round and is more expensive to produce than arena- and stadium-based sports. (Golf is a particularly difficult hurdle for Fox, which rarely puts sports on its streaming service Tubi, meaning it’s hard to show golf when schedules conflict.)
Until recently, LIV Golf also didn’t have any stars on board, and it’s unclear whether it will attract enough top golfers to make its events appealing to fans.Questions about tour support been uncomfortable For those who have already joined.
“I would ask any player who has left or is considering leaving, ‘Have you ever apologized for being a part of the PGA Tour?'” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said during a televised interview on Sunday.
A player under contract with LIV has been kicked out of the PGA Tour, though that could soon be the subject of a lawsuit. Sponsors have also dropped players, either because of ties to Saudi Arabia or because companies don’t want to support golfers on the tour, but few are watching.
LIV Golf Series Quick Guide
A new series. The new Saudi-funded, controversial LIV golf series held its first event in June. But what is it? Who is playing it? What is the hustle and how can you see it? Here’s what to know:
Still, many involved in the PGA Tour’s media deals admit that if LIV attracts more top golfers, their interest in the PGA Tour will decrease. They think the appeal of the PGA Tour is that the best golfers in the world compete against each other every weekend, and LIV directly threatens that.
The future of LIV may depend in part on whether LIV players are allowed to play in the four major golf tournaments — none of which are hosted by the PGA Tour. Augusta National Golf Club hosts the Masters; USGA hosts the U.S. Open; PGA of America hosts the PGA Championship; R&A hosts the British Open.
If allowed to play in the majors, LIV golfers could earn huge paydays on the less taxed LIV Tour, while continuing to play traditional events in front of millions of fans.
“Professionals are extremely important to professional golfers, and they’re going to be a key variable whether they’re successful or not,” said David Levy, former president of Turner Sports, who created Match, a high-stakes golf exhibition.
The third major of the year, the U.S. Open, was played this weekend at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, with LIV golfers in attendance.The U.S. Golf Association, which organizes the tournament, said in a statement carefully worded statement Last week, any qualified golfer will be allowed to play. But the USGA noted that its decision “should not be construed as USGA support for an alternative organizational entity,” and on Wednesday the group’s chief executive Mike Wann said he could foresee a day when players would be denied participation in the U.S. Open Depending on which tour they are from.
The other majors have yet to say whether they will ban LIV golfers from their events. The tournaments also did not say whether they would continue to offer lifetime invitations to players who won the tournament. (Mickelson, for example, has a lifetime exemption from the Masters and the PGA Championship.) A decision is expected this fall and winter, as plans for the 2023 tournament are set.
A sometimes overlooked golf body, 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 those rankings to determine eligibility. Currently, LIV golfers do not earn ranking points, which means they will inevitably drop in the world rankings and be disqualified from majors.
LIV has said it will submit an application to rank its activities. The application will be considered by the Official World Golf Ranking Council, chaired by former British professional golfer Peter Dawson. The board also includes representatives from the four majors, as well as representatives from the PGA Tour, European Tour and International PGA Tour Federation.
While the PGA Tour will almost certainly vote against the LIV application, how other tours will vote is less certain. Even if they also voted against, if delegates from all four majors voted to allow LIV golfers to accrue ranking points – and thus show they are satisfied with LIV golfers playing in their events – LIV Golf might succeed in attracting more Many golfers.