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There is no doubt about it: putting a new golf competition on television is difficult.
There are challenges in video and audio equipment, on-air talent, production staff and, yes, camera technicians – not to mention the Herculean task of stringing all these elements together at once, with no room for error, and to cover what is largely accepted as the most difficult sport to televise.
Given these challenges, it seems unfair that LIV Golf’s broadcast team should also be responsible for finding a network to put their broadcasts on air. But the sports TV world is often not very fair.
At the start of the LIV offseason in October, the league’s media team set a relatively simple goal: adding a second network partner in the United States. LIV still had a year left on its contract with the CW, yes, but that partnership only included the Saturday and Sunday broadcasts of the competition. On Friday, the first rounds of LIV aired on the CW app and YouTube, but not on a television partner in the United States.
Without a Friday TV partner, LIV failed to generate TV revenue – traditionally a significant portion of any sports league’s total revenue – on 33 percent of available television hours. The hope, LIV chief media officer Will Staeger told me in an August interview, was to capitalize on renewed market intrigue in the wake of the historic “framework deal” with the PGA Tour to add a second partner to the mix to add. , allowing the league to monetize all its hours on TV.
“What has been interesting in recent weeks is a revived interest from the TV world,” Staeger said at the time. “We have set up calls with all the major networks around the world.”
Staeger and the rest of LIV’s senior media officials got to work quickly this offseason, flying to the Sportel Sports Media conference in Monaco – an annual home for the world’s leading sports media – just days after the completion of the 2023 season . figures and the ideal setting for one tete-tete that could set the stage for larger negotiations over media rights.
But now, two weeks into the ’24 season, it appears a deal still hasn’t been done. For at least two weeks, LIV was unable to find a partner for its Friday television coverage, and has instead entered 2024 with virtually the same broadcast lineup as 2023 – airing on the CW on Saturdays and Sundays, while streaming on YouTube, and the LIV Golf – and CW Apps on Fridays.
A notable exception to that schedule came this weekend for the Super Bowl, when LIV’s Friday broadcast (also from Super Bowl host city Las Vegas) aired on the CW with a two-hour primetime tape delay. But the reason for the switch to coverage was really a matter of planning. LIV has opted to hold its tournament Thursday through Saturday, leaving the TV audience runway open for the Super Bowl — which will inevitably block the sun — leaving Friday evening open for the CW’s typical coverage in the second round.
The news doesn’t change much for the rival league, which is unlikely to generate significant amounts of TV revenue even with a new deal. Network sources said this in December GOLFDylan Dethier says LIV’s total revenues from the 2023 season on the CW were likely no more than $3 million — pennies next to the more than $500 million the PGA Tour’s domestic TV affiliates brought in the same year. Still, Friday’s broadcast situation speaks to the broader environment surrounding LIV’s TV rights, which have received a chilly response from the sports media market since the competition’s inception in 2022.
Yes, things have changed for the league in the past two years — including the signing of a potential deal with the PGA Tour and a coup from one of golf’s biggest stars, reigning Masters winner Jon Rahm. But it appears the excitement has not yet reached the more lucrative corners of sports television, an issue that could have financial implications for the rival league.
Part of the problem LIV faces has to do with ratings. The league struggled for viewers in its first year on the CW, regularly failing to generate an audience of more than a few hundred thousand people, and it appears the trend line has continued into 2024. Last Sunday, when a PGA Tour rainstorm cleared the TV golf Sunday schedule, the CW managed an average of 432,000 viewers for LIV’s final round at Mayakoba, while CBS’s replay of Saturday’s third round delivered an audience three times that size. There are inherent benefits to network television audiences that factor into these numbers, but the truth is crystal clear: the gap between the two products remains significant.
Ratings are a reflection of the audience’s value and interest, which has a real impact on advertising dollars. And advertising revenue is important, as the TV value of a sports property is at least partially tied to a broadcaster’s ability to recoup its investment through advertising and subscription fees. Besides ratings, there are other ways to generate value in a TV rights deal, such as prestige, history and star power. LIV has some of these things in abundance, but apparently not enough. In other words, without audience interest it’s hard to generate value, and without value it’s hard to convince a network (or networks) to pay you the same billion-dollar sums doled out to rivals on the Tour.
That’s an unfortunate development for LIV’s broadcast team, which has recorded a pair of notable victories in the two years since the league’s inception. For starters, LIV’s broadcast remains one of the most exciting in pro golf, with an infrastructure built for high-octane coverage and a top-notch graphics package. In addition, the league has scored a number of notable TV wins this off-season, forging partnerships with Spanish broadcaster MoviStar and sports technology provider PMY Group, which will use Google’s cloud technology to deliver every shot of live coverage of most LIV events in 2024 .
But ultimately, a league’s TV value depends on its ability to convert TV rights into TV dollars. With or without a Friday TV partner, LIV is not there yet. And while it’s possible the league can find a Friday partner between now and the end of the 2024 season, it now seems even more unlikely that such a deal would be a financial game-changer.
For a league that has had no problem losing a pretty penny in the two years since its inception, that may not matter much in the short term. But if LIV ever wants to fulfill its promise of becoming an entrenched part of the professional sports world, make no mistake: there is only one path to redemption.
It starts on television.
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