However you feel about LIV Golf and what it represents, its rapid ascent into a full-blown tour in 2022 has been nothing short of astonishing.
A year ago, the Saudi-funded organization — in the eyes of most golf fans, anyway — wasn’t much more than a far-fetched concept. No announced players. No announced host sites. No teams. No TV deal. No sponsors. Nothing. And while not all of these elements have come to fruition over the past 12 months, enough of them have to legitimize LIV as a professional sports entity with which to be reckoned. The golf world has certainly taken notice, and so, too, have executives across the sports world.
enter a survey by Sports Business Journal published Monday for which the publication polled its readership — which is largely comprised of staff and executives from sports leagues, agencies, media outlets, and sports marketing and advertising companies — about what they deemed to be the biggest sports business story of 2022. Leading the way, with 27% of the vote? Yep, LIV Golf, which handily beat out “the influence of NIL on college sports” (19%) and “the rising impact of streaming platforms” (12%).
It’s been that kind of year for LIV.
The billions that its Saudi backers have poured into the league, the sticky moral and geopolitical questions its rise have surfaced and the number of A-list players it has attracted have made LIV a fascinating and layered story to follow, even for casual observers of the game. So much so that when asked to rate the “hottest” properties in sports, the survey respondents ranked LIV and the PGA Tour almost neck and neck, with 9% of respondents putting the PGA Tour in their top three properties and 8% giving LIV Golf a top three node; Both organizations were far behind the top three vote-getters: the NFL (64%), Formula One (38%) and the NBA (37%).
LIV’s growth has not only thrust its own commissioner and CEO, Greg Norman, into the spotlight but also ratcheted up the pressure on the commissioner of the league from which it has been poaching players, the PGA Tour’s Jay Monahan. In the SBJ poll’s “most intriguing sports executive” category, Norman — who the likes of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods have said should step down — received 3% of the vote, or one percentage point more than Monahan. (NASCAR chief Steve Phelps led the way with 13% of all votes.)
Meanwhile, when it came to who the survey-takers thought was “the most effective pro sports commissioner,” Norman’s name was nowhere to be found while Monahan nabbed 5% of the vote. Tops in the category was the NBA’s Adam Silver at 32% followed by the NFL’s Roger Goodell at 17%.
Among LIV’s biggest challenges in 2022: getting eyeballs on its tournaments. With no US TV deal, it has relied on golf fans streaming its events on YouTube and through LIV’s own website. In LIV’s first season, final-round viewership figures were largely in the tens of thousands.
That ratings struggled bore out in SBJ’s survey. When the respondents were asked whether they’d watched a LIV event this year, only 18% said they had.