Last January, legendary Fox Sports producer and LIV Golf broadcast consultant David Hill offered a bold promise.
It was six months before LIV Golf would burst onto the scene in pro golf. The startup he’d joined — headed by his longtime friend Greg Norman — had only recently been given a name. But to Hill, the question of whether the new league could secure a broadcast deal in a crowded sports media space was of little concern.
“Don King was one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever worked with,” Hill said at the time of the boxing promoter — and the league’s efforts at landing a TV deal. “What he would always say is ‘content is King and King is content.’”
A year later, Hill has been at least partially vindicated. On Thursday morning, the LIV Golf announced it had officially signed a “multi-year agreement” with the CW, granting broadcast and streaming rights to the network recently acquired by broadcast giant Nexstar.
“This is a momentous day for LIV Golf as this partnership is about more than just media rights,” Norman said in a release announcing the agreement. “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.”
There’s still a lot we don’t know about the LIV/CW deal — details of the agreement were not announced, including financial specifics — but in the days since the news was first reported, there’s also much we’ve learned about how this deal came to be, and what fans can expect from LIV broadcasts in 2023 and beyond. Here are 9 things we know.
1. YouTube is no more
Say what you will about the product, but there was no more accessible broadcast in sports television than LIV Golf’s 2022 version, which aired both commercial- and subscription-free on YouTube. Fans could access live broadcasts in real-time, for free, without interruption, on one of the biggest websites in the world.
Under the new agreement with the CW, that access point is no more. Beginning in 2023, LIV’s streaming product will be attached to the CW app, an ad-supported service widely available on most major streaming and mobile platforms. The good news is that most viewers still won’t pay anything to stream LIV — the app is available for free without a required subscription.
2. LIV will not be paying for airtime
While the exact financial structure of the LIV-CW deal remains a mystery, a source told GOLF.com that LIV is not paying the CW to broadcast its events. The big question — the one that remains outstanding even after the agreement was announced — is if LIV will make any money from broadcasting on the CW.
In most traditional media-rights deals, the network pays a fee to the league for the right to broadcast its events, but a separate source indicated that the LIV-CW agreement was not structured this way. Another potential avenue toward cash flow would be for the network and the league to share advertising and other revenue generated by league broadcasts.
3. Streaming will carry early-round broadcasts
Opening-round LIV coverage will not be carried on broadcast television, per Thursday’s announcement. Rather, Friday coverage will be carried exclusively on the CW app. That’s disappointing news for golf fans, particularly those who hoped that LIV’s broadcast deal would expand access to golf coverage rather than limit it.
4. The CW is very serious about growth
Get your Gossip Girl jokes out of the way now, because crazy as the CW might sound as a broadcast partner, there’s more to it than meets the eye. The network is under new owners in 2023, having undergone a late-summer acquisition by Nexstar, a broadcast and local news station behemoth. The goal, per Nexstar chairman Perry Sook, was to diversify the company’s broadcast offerings, bolstering the success of their NewsNation cable channel with a broadcast TV network focused on entertainment.
In the CW, Nexstar found a network that had been used primarily as a proving ground for its former legacy owners, Paramount and WarnerMedia. Though the network had never posted a profit, it touted an unusually young viewership demographic (though those numbers were skewed by the gap between broadcast TV demo reporting and streaming) and an offering in 98 percent of U.S. TV markets.
Sook’s bet is that with the proper strategy, Nexstar can transform the CW into a bonafide broadcast network, building a business that attracts a wide variety of viewers and becomes a destination for TV audiences. LIV represents the CW’s largest push yet toward that effort.
5. LIV got what it needed
After a year of negotiating, it’s difficult to argue that the CW was LIV’s first choice in the lucrative world of TV streaming (networks will pay some $16 billion to the five major sports and golf for broadcast rights in 2023), but that might not matter much. In the CW, LIV found a nationally televised broadcast network with the ability to reach some 120 million viewers. No, it’s not ESPN or NBC, but it’s far better than some of the few options that were remaining.
6. The CW is serious (enough) about LIV
No, the CW very likely didn’t leverage billions in rights fees to LIV Golf for the right to broadcast its events, like many other networks have done with other sports properties. But make no mistake, even if the risk is low for the CW, they’re invested in LIV’s success, too.
“For the CW, our partnership with LIV Golf marks a significant milestone in our goal to re-engineer the network with quality, diversified programming for our viewers, advertisers and CW affiliates,” CW Network president Dennis Miller said in a release announcing the agreement. “This also marks the first time in the CW’s 17-year history that the network is the exclusive broadcast home for live mainstream sports.”
There’s an old saying about a rising tide lifting all ships; if LIV can help the CW turn a profit — and clearly the network’s leaders believe it can — then it’s an avenue worth pursuing.
7. The PGA Tour is involved…kinda
When Nexstar purchased the CW from Paramount and WarnerMedia, they allowed both media companies to retain a 12.5 percent ownership stake in the network, meaning that both Paramount and WarnerMedia now are partially invested in LIV Golf’s broadcast success.
Ironically, both Paramount (CBS) and WarnerMedia (Discovery) are broadcast partners of the PGA Tour with billions in outstanding rights fees owed to the Tour. It’s early to say, but that might make for an awkward encounter on the next Zoom call.
(Though, as sports lawyer Michael McCann pointed out, LIV landing a broadcast deal could prove a powerful arguing point for the PGA Tour’s antitrust lawyers.)
8. LIV’s broadcast will remain unchanged
LIV will continue to be responsible for the production of its events. None of the major players from LIV’s first season — from producer Steve Beim to broadcasters Arlo White, David Feherty and Jerry Foltz — will be going anywhere.
9. LIV’s long-term remains a question mark
At the beginning of the hunt for a broadcast partner, there was some hope among LIV sympathizers that a long-term, high-paying broadcast deal would materialize, immediately entrenching the league as a fixture of golf for the long-term. Thursday’s announcement certainly doesn’t hurt those prospects, but it didn’t do very much to help them, either.
In fact, if Thursday’s agreement taught us anything, it’s that the league’s existence now and in the near future remains very much tied to the whims of its Saudi financiers.