LIV Golf fails to land Friday TV partner in time for 2024 season
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There’s no doubt about it: putting a new golf league on television is tricky.
There are challenges of video and audio equipment, on-air talent, production staffing, and, yes, camera technicians — to say nothing of the Herculean task of threading all of those elements together at one time, with no margin for error, covering what is largely accepted as the most difficult sport to televise.
Considering these challenges, it seems unfair that LIV Golf’s broadcast team should also be responsible for finding a network to put their telecasts on the air. But the sports TV business isn’t often very fair.
At the start of the LIV offseason in October, the league’s media team set a relatively straightforward goal: to add a second network partner in the United States. LIV still had another year on its agreement with the CW, yes, but that partnership only included the league’s Saturday and Sunday broadcasts. On Fridays, LIV’s first rounds aired on the CW app and YouTube, but not on any television partner in the United States.
Without a Friday television partner, LIV was failing to generate TV revenue — traditionally a considerable part of any sports league’s overall business — on 33 percent of its available television hours. The hope, LIV chief media officer Will Staeger told me in an interview in August, was to take advantage of a newfound intrigue in the market in the wake of the landmark “framework agreement” with the PGA Tour to add a second partner to the mix, allowing the league to monetize all of its hours on TV.
“What’s been interesting in the past few weeks is a reinvigorated sense of interest from the TV world,” Staeger said then. “We’ve set up conversations with all major networks around the world.”
Staeger and the rest of LIV’s high-ranking media officials got to work quickly in the offseason, flying out just days after the completion of the 2023 season to the Sportel Sports Media conference in Monaco — an annual home to the sports media world’s highest-profile figures and the ideal setting for a tete-a-tete that could set the stage for larger media rights negotiations.
But now, two weeks into the ’24 season, it appears a deal still hasn’t materialized. Through two weeks at least, LIV was not able to find a partner for its Friday television coverage, and has instead headed into 2024 with much the same broadcast setup as 2023 — airing on the CW on Saturday and Sunday, while streaming on YouTube, and the LIV Golf and CW apps on Friday.
One 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 on a two-hour primetime tape delay. But the reason for the coverage switch-up was, in fact, a matter of scheduling. LIV elected to carry its tournament from Thursday-Saturday to leave the TV audience runway open for the Super Bowl — which will inevitably block out the sun — leaving Friday night open for the CW’s typical second-round coverage.
The news doesn’t change very much for the rival league, which is unlikely to generate considerable sums of TV revenue even with a new agreement. In December, network sources told GOLF‘s Dylan Dethier that LIV’s total revenue from the 2023 season on the CW likely didn’t exceed $3 million — pennies next to the more than $500 million brought in by the PGA Tour’s domestic TV partners in the same year. Still, the Friday broadcast situation speaks to the larger environment surrounding LIV’s TV rights, which have received a chilly response from the sports media market since the league’s inception in 2022.
Yes, things have changed for the league in the two years since then — including the crafting of a possible agreement with the PGA Tour and a coup of one of golf’s biggest stars, reigning Masters winner Jon Rahm. But it seems the excitement has not yet reached sports television’s more lucrative corners, an issue that could have downstream financial impacts for the rival league.
Part of the problem facing LIV is ratings-related. The league struggled for viewership in its first year on the CW, regularly failing to generate audiences larger than a few hundred thousand people, and it seems that trendline has continued into 2024. Last Sunday, when a PGA Tour rainout cleared the golf Sunday TV schedule, the CW managed 432,000 average viewers for LIV’s final round at Mayakoba, while CBS’s re-air of Saturday’s third round produced an audience three times as large. There are inherent audience advantages of network television at play in those numbers, but the truth is clear as day: the gap between the two products remains considerable.
Ratings are a reflection of audience value and interest, which has a real effect on advertising dollars. And ad revenue is important, considering that a sports property’s TV value is at least partially tied to a broadcaster’s ability to make back its investment through advertising and subscription fees. Beyond ratings, there are other ways of generating value in a TV rights agreement, like prestige and history and star power. LIV has some of these things in spades, but evidently not enough of them. 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 multi-billion-dollar sums handed out to the rivals at the Tour.
That’s an unfortunate development for LIV’s broadcast team, which has recorded a few notable wins in the two years since the league’s inception. For one thing, LIV’s broadcast remains one of the buzziest in pro golf, with an infrastructure built for high-octane coverage and a top-of-the-line graphics package. For another, the league did manage a few notable TV victories this offseason, notching partnerships with the Spanish broadcaster MoviStar and sports tech provider PMY Group, which will utilize Google’s cloud technology to provide every shot live coverage from most LIV events in 2024.
Ultimately, though, a league’s TV value is tied to its ability to turn TV rights into TV dollars. With or without a Friday TV partner, LIV hasn’t gotten there yet. And while it’s possible the league could manage to wrangle a Friday partner between now and the end of the 2024 season, it seems even more unlikely now that such an agreement would be a financial game-changer.
For a league that has had no problem losing a very pretty penny in the two years since its creation, that might not matter very much in the short term. But for LIV to ever fulfill its promise of becoming an entrenched piece of the pro sports world, make no mistake, there’s only one path to salvation.
It starts on television.