ROCHESTER, N.Y. — No one seems ready to say where things are headed for LIV Golf. Apparently not even LIV Golf.
Six events and three months into its sophomore season, LIV has quietly stopped publicly reporting its TV ratings, reversing course on an early-season strategy, and a sign that the league could be struggling to generate sufficient viewer interest. The decision means there is no reputable viewership data on the upstart league, which has argued publicly available Nielsen data measuring its broadcasts is inaccurate.
LIV sources confirmed to the Hot Mic that the league would not be reporting viewership data from its U.S. broadcasts moving forward but declined to explain why. In LIV’s most recent ratings report in late March, the league showed audience numbers slumping by 24 percent week-over-week, from 537,000 average viewers in its season-opening broadcast in Mexico to 409,000 in its second event in Tucson, Ariz. LIV has conducted four events since Tucson, including a pair in Australia and Singapore that were shown on tape delay in the United States. LIV has not released data on any of those four events.
The decision marks a significant departure from the strategy outlined just months ago by the league’s chief media officer, Will Staeger. Days after LIV signed its agreement with the CW in January, Staeger told GOLF.com the league would “certainly” provide publicly available viewership information, adding public data was “critical to all of our plans.”
“I think being a new league is a process that requires commitment, but it also requires patience,” Staeger said then. “ is about growing the knowledge of where you can watch us, and then growing the ratings. It’s about growing the viewership.”
Four months later, questions remain about the viability of the league’s broadcasts in the first year of a two-year media rights agreement with the CW. On Sunday, the network turned away an unknown number of potential viewers when affiliates in several major markets abruptly dropped LIV’s Tulsa coverage minutes before a three-way playoff featuring two of the tour’s biggest stars, Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith. Later this year, the CW will air LIV’s team championship in Saudi Arabia on tape delay.
Financially, things aren’t much clearer. LIV’s agreement with the CW reportedly includes a revenue share in 2023, meaning both sides’ financial projections could be harmed by underperforming ratings. It is also believed that there are escalators in the second year of the CW deal tied to ratings targets.
Those in LIV’s orbit present a different picture — one in which a fledgling broadcast and partner need time to get off the runway. In many ways, that’s the story of LIV as golf turns to the PGA Championship.
“It all depends who you talk to,” Jon Rahm put it succinctly on Tuesday. “If you talk to a LIV player, this is going to be great, it’s only going to get better. You talk to people on the other side, in two years they’re going to be done. I really have no clue.”
Of course, without reliable ratings data, it’s impossible to know how LIV’s viewership is tracking. But if things are growing according to plan, the decision to halt public data would be counterintuitive, particularly considering LIV’s own contentions about data sourced from elsewhere. The league has said that widely available audience information from Nielsen presents an incomplete depiction of viewership. Those ratings, LIV says, miss a handful of big markets, like Chicago and Philadelphia where LIV is shown on non-CW networks. It’s unknown how many viewers are missed by Nielsen’s ratings, or if CW affiliates counted by Nielsen in those markets make up a considerable portion of LIV’s viewership.
“That’s why the numbers are different,” Staeger told GOLF in March. “Those [stations] aren’t measured in a lot of cases. We want to be thorough and make sure we have the right numbers.”
In short, it’s hard to know the specifics of LIV’s current viewership situation, but it’s easier to find out where things stand relative to the PGA Tour. LIV’s rivals on Tour have averaged more than 2 million viewers this season (2.295 million in nine events on CBS, 2.3 million on NBC, per Nielsen), and that includes weeks in which the two tours have butted heads. Even historic gains in LIV’s ratings would leave the league dwarfed by the Tour. Those numbers are notable, as is the fact that both Tour broadcast partners have been eager to share their own viewership data for most of the 2023 season.
Ultimately, LIV is under no formal obligation to share its TV data, just as the public has no true claim to see it. Maybe, as is surely being argued within LIV, it’s best for the league not to entrench itself in a viewership battle with a rival positioned to win every week, irrespective of how the CW numbers are performing. But for a league that’s built its reputation around challenging the PGA Tour’s market share, the decision to withhold that data from the public will raise eyebrows.
Still, there remains a group that does have a claim to LIV’s viewership data: the advertisers, who will need that information to make a determination about spending precious ad dollars with the upstart tour. The full truth of LIV’s viewership situation won’t be known until we see how the ad market reacts to the data, but the implied truth of the league’s decision is hard to understand — even for those on the other side of golf’s ratings battle. When the topic surfaced Tuesday at Oak Hill, one CBS Golf employee offered a two-word reaction.