LIV Golf’s TV Deal With The CW Fundamentally Shifts Both Partners Narratives

LIV Golf, a growing thorn in the PGA Tour’s side, tees off their sophomore season next month at Mayakoba with a tailwind. The controversial upstart is poised to reach a wider audience after inking a multi-year broadcast and streaming agreement with the CW, the fifth-largest domestic network.

“Golf looks different than other sports in that it has the oldest average viewers and audience members, so leaning into a broadcast component was really important to LIV and provided the CW’s new ownership an opportunity to reposition themselves,” Daniel Kirschner, CEO of greenfly, explains. Television networks are a primary end point of the short form content the software firm gathers and distributes to the NBA, MLB, NHL and other major sports organizations, providing unique insight into the relationship between broadcasting partners and media rights holders.

“I don’t think there is anything further from Dawson’s Creek and the shows of their previous incarnation as professional golf. I think it makes a lot of sense for both sides,” Kirschner adds.

The question of a pathway to financial viability has long dogged the spendthrift Saudi-backed league that upended pro golf’s ‘you eat what you kill’ maxim by offering eye-popping player contracts and guaranteed prize money at events in order to woo Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and others away from the entrenched incumbent.

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund already committed $2 billion to the endeavor despite lacking the most lucrative ace card lurking in a pro sports league’s monetization playbook—a fat media rights deal. Branded as ‘golf, but louder,’ the action at the three-round team golf circus where a shotgun start puts the entire 48-player field on the course at once could previously be seen for free on YouTube. That really wasn’t the greatest fit for reaching golf fans who don’t tend to be cord cutters.

LIV Golf brass had been teasing that a broadcast deal was in the works for months, but with CBS, ESPN and NBC already linked at the hip to their rival and Amazon
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and Apple
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uninterested—despite both being on live sports rights buying sprees—the pickings were not exactly plentiful. Speculation swirled that in the end they might resort to simply paying for airtime, infomercial style.

While the actual terms of the deal have not been released, there have been reports that rather than the CW network paying a rights fee to LIV, they will share the ad revenue generated from broadcasts with speculation that LIV Golf will also foot the bill for productions fees. If that indeed is the structure of the deal, it would not be unprecedented.

“It’s not unusual in the context of emerging sports organizations trying to build an audience to create these kinds of deal structures,” Kirschner says.

Ultimately if successful both parties will be happy and for LIV which is still working to establish itself, the brand-building win of simply getting on a strong national broadcast network was worth whatever they may have had to give up in order to strike a deal.

“The CW will provide accessibility for our fans and maximum exposure for our athletes and partners as their reach includes more than 120 million households across the United States,” LIV commissioner Greg Norman said.

Still, scores of golf fanatics may have done a double-take when they first saw the headlines. The CW is best known as a bastion of soapy and scripted teenager targeted fare such as All American, Riverdaleand Nancy Drew. But since Nextstar Media Group
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acquired a controlling stake in the network from co-owners Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery last summer, they signaled that there would be a shift in the network’s programming to broaden its demographic reach.

Kirschner finds the partnership fascinating in that both LIV and the CW are repositioning their brands with this deal but he allows that a traditional live sports destination would have been a bigger coup for the pro golf upstart.

“In some ways it maybe reduces the value a little bit for LIV because they are not getting access to a channel that sports fans are turning on everyday no matter what but at the same time I imagine the CW made a case for why this is important to them and the efforts they are going to undertake to help promote this so there are pluses and minuses,” he says.

The past couple months have seen a spate of sports broadcasting deals with the LIV-CW tie up coming on the heels of Apple and Major League Soccer announcing MLS Season Pass which kicks off in February and Google
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and the NFL cozying up with a multiyear agreement to exclusively distribute Sunday tickets.

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