At long last, LIV Golf has a television partner.
The upstart league is nearing a TV rights contract with the CW, sources told GOLF, granting media rights for LIV’s second season to the network with one of the country’s youngest viewing audiences.
Details of the agreement have not yet been announced, but people with knowledge of the matter indicated the transaction would mark a switch from the traditional business of major sports television, in which a broadcaster pays a fee to a sports league for the rights to its live events and handles most of the advertising on its own.
Networks will spend close to $16 billion on the rights to the five major professional sports and golf in 2023, but the proposed structure of this agreement makes it unlikely that LIV will receive a comparable financial windfall from the CW to the PGA Tour’s broadcast agreements (which net some $600 million for the Tour annually), even if the agreement allows the league to earn a portion of advertising revenues. Still, the bottom line likely matters very little to LIV, which has acknowledged in recent months the importance of a true broadcast partner to its long-term efforts.
“It’s crucial,” LIV CEO Greg Norman told GOLF last week. “We have a great platform that really should be shown to the world. When we go internationally, we are applauded and accepted and everybody wants to see us. So here in the United States, it was obviously a very critical point to our business plan to make sure we do get on TV and we will get on TV.”
The agreement was first reported by Sports Illustrated, though rumors about the CW first came from LIV Golf broadcaster David Feherty, who hinted at the news in an appearance in West Palm Beach, Fla., last Thursday. (John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal was the first to report on interest between the two parties.)
“Have you heard of CW?” Feherty reportedly told the crowd after the show ended. “I might get fired for this, but… “
In the CW, LIV finds what it hoped for all along in a broadcast partner: a national TV network (the 21st-most-watched in the U.S. in 2021 by average primetime viewership) with a young audience and schedule flexibility. The agreement will bring the league’s 14 events to some 100 million U.S. homes in 2023, a massive potential audience as LIV seeks to further entrench its legitimacy in the golf world.
The agreement marks the latest in a marked shift for the CW’s owners, Nexstar Television, toward the creation of a cable TV giant. Nexstar, which owns some 197 local TV stations across the U.S., purchased a 75 percent stake in the CW in August in an apparent effort to diversify its broadcast portfolio. In recent years, Nexstar’s success in launching the cable news channel NewsNation fueled some optimism that the company would try running a network operation in addition to its local news stations.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we owned a broadcast network and maybe other cable networks that we layer on top of our local content foundation,” Nexstar CEO Perry Sook told NextTV shortly before the CW acquisition was announced in August.
Sports have long been a successful engine for driving intrigue and attention to a network platform. In its first sports television partner, Nexstar can test the waters through a league with untapped upside and very little risk — the continuation of a $2 billion gamble that raising the profile of the CW’s content offerings will help on its path to profitability.
“Over time, we will be taking a different approach to our CW programming strategy and will leverage our experience in spending approximately $2 billion a year on programming, attracting and monetizing viewers, and transitioning NewsNation, our national cable news network, from WGN, while maintaining a strict focus on cash flow,” Nexstar COO Tom Carter said on an earnings call announcing the sale.
One particular ripple of the agreement is sure to raise some eyebrows at PGA Tour headquarters: two current PGA Tour broadcast partners, Warner Media (Discovery) and Paramount (CBS), own minority stakes in the CW. The two media giants — and longtime former CW owners — retained 12.5 percent stakes in the company as part of the sale to Nexstar. It was not immediately clear if either company could see their ownership situation affected by a potential LIV agreement.
A spokeswoman for LIV Golf declined comment, while a spokesman for Nexstar didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. LIV’s first scheduled event for 2023 is Feb. 24-26 at El Camaleón Golf Course at Mayakoba.