The second round of LIV/PGA Tour TV ratings are officially in, and the news isn’t great for the upstart league.
Last weekend’s LIV Tucson event — the second tournament since signing a “multi-year rights agreement” with the CW — averaged 24 percent fewer viewers than the league’s season-opener in Mexico, LIV told GOLF Friday. According to “preliminary” data collected by the analytics company iSpotTV and shared by LIV, the upstart league averaged 409,000 viewers during its second tournament of 2023, some 128,000 fewer viewers than during the opener at Mayakoba.
Some ratings drop-off from Mayakoba to Tucson was expected in part due to the first round of the NCAA Tournament, LIV sources indicated, but it’s unclear whether the upstarts expected a drop quite as precipitous as the one they received in week 2 of the league’s agreement with the CW.
The PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship, which ran opposite to LIV Tucson, drew an average audience size of 2.23 million, more than five times that of LIV’s second event. The Tour data is inclusive of some streaming viewership on Peacock and NBC.com, and LIV did not release streaming data as part of its preliminary numbers (some streaming data is baked into the iSpotTV numbers, but not all). Still, the inclusion of streaming information isn’t expected to make a noticeable difference in the overall tally.
If you listen to the narrative crafted by LIV executives, it was a better-than-expected debut for LIV Mayakoba on the CW, which drew some 537,000 average viewers over the touranment’s two weekend rounds and an additional 350,000 streamers over all three days (LIV’s first round broadcasts are streaming-only). But it’s hard to say where expectations land for a league with so few prior data points.
“I would characterize the launch of the first two events or inaugural league season as capturing significant viewership,” LIV chief media officer Will Staeger told GOLF. “I think overall, we’re pleased with the start and we’ve got a long way to go.”
Just how many fans LIV has to reach to be deemed a stable force in the golf space remains to be seen, but it’s clear the league has a long way to go to reach the same stratosphere as the PGA Tour, whose broadcasts have averaged 2.32 million viewers in the same weekend timeslots as LIV’s (and it should be noted, did so with a pair of mid-tier events). One recent point of emphasis for LIV has been its viewership relative to other major sports leagues — like the NHL and MLS — which draw smaller average audiences. It should be noted, however, that unlike those major sports leagues, LIV’s broadcasts enjoy the advantage of fewer events shown in two prime weekend timeslots.
The numbers reported by LIV on Friday represent a boost of more than 100,000 viewers over the 279,000 figure reported by Nielsen over the weekend and into Monday. According to conversations with LIV and other industry figures, there are a few reasons why this might be the case.
The first has something to do with a group of CW affiliates in the U.S. that are refusing to broadcast LIV’s events — a group that makes up some 23 percent of U.S. TV markets, including in major cities like Chicago and Philadelphia. LIV has backfilled each of those markets with other networks who now show LIV’s TV coverage, but Nielsen isn’t counting those non-CW affiliates in its overall tally. To the contrary, Nielsen is counting the CW affiliates that *aren’t* showing LIV. The truth is that we won’t know how this discrepancy is affecting the legitimacy of Nielsen’s ratings until have market-specific data. It’s possible — as LIV argues — that those networks are generating significant audience sums for LIV. But it’s also possible those non-CW networks are generating fewer viewers for LIV. We just don’t know.
The second theory behind the gap in ratings between Nielsen and LIV has to do with iSpotTV, the analytics company collecting audience data on LIV’s behalf. It’s possible if not likely, some industry figures say, that iSpot’s audience-capture method could result in inflated numbers relative to Nielsen’s.
Of course, it’s also possible that both theories are contributing to the viewership gap in some way. Until we have more data, we just won’t know with perfect clarity.
As for what it all means, it’s hard to say other than the obvious: so far the PGA Tour is winning big, and LIV’s arrow is pointing the wrong direction. With 12 events still left in the 2023 LIV season (and 12 more Tour events running opposite), there’s still plenty of time for that narrative change. We’ll know more after the conclusion of LIV’s next event in Orlando — an update we can expect at important timing: the beginning of Masters week.