Poll: Phil Mickelson’s popularity drops, LIV Golf struggles to gain foothold with golf fans

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Phil Mickelson's controversial move to LIV Golf has not gone unnoticed among golf fans, per a recent poll.

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Everybody’s talking about LIV Golf, but perhaps the better question is: who’s listening?

In a poll released Wednesday by the survey firm Morning Consult, the public earned its first temperature check into pro golf’s great arms race, and the results were … less than thrilling for the upstarts.

According to the poll, which was conducted using online answers from 609 self-identified golf fans, the intrigue surrounding the rival tour stops well short of enthusiasm. Just 16 percent of all golf fans said they tuned into the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational event at Centurion Club in London at the beginning of June, and less than half of “avid golf fans” said they were “very” or “somewhat” interested in watching LIV Golf. Among sports fans, those numbers were even lower, with those expressing interest in watching LIV dropping closer to 20 percent.

As for the PGA Tour, those numbers were significantly skewed toward the positive. Eighty-eight percent of avid golf fans said they were interested in watching the PGA Tour, while 77 percent of regular golf fans agreed. The number of sports fans who said they were interested in watching PGA Tour golf hovered close to 50 percent.

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The primary reason for this, it seems, is star power. Even after LIV Golf attracted a series of notable names to join the new rival tour, a significant chunk of fans (82 percent) ranked the PGA Tour “having the best players” as being a key piece of the reason for their interest. Despite some notable early losses, the PGA Tour has managed to hang on to key young stars like Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas (not to mention retaining the loyalty of the game’s most important figure, Tiger Woods). Prizes, or prize money — a key piece of LIV’s new platform — was the factor least likely to generate fan interest.

Woods’ longtime counterpart Phil Mickelson was LIV’s first and most controversial defection, and according to Morning Consult’s numbers, the golf public noticed. Mickelson saw a 14-point drop in his popularity from September 2021 to June 2022, the largest drop of any player in Morning Consult’s polling. Mickelson saw the largest dip of any LIV defection, though Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson also saw favorability drops (while Bryson DeChambeau remained steady). During the same time period, both McIlroy and Woods saw boosts in their own favorability ratings.

The surveyors caution against taking those numbers to be caused by each player’s association with LIV Golf. There are, of course, many factors that go into a player’s popularity. In Mickelson’s case, in September 2021, he was just months removed from a historic major championship victory at the PGA. In June 2022, his playing success has fallen off along with his series of off-course controversies, two factors that could be simultaneously contributing to his falling score.

Some of the findings from the Morning Consult poll go against those from a recent survey from Harris, which found broader prospective interest in the league among golf fans and adults in general. Harris’ survey also showed split public opinion on the league’s financiers, with roughly the same percentage of respondents saying they opposed the relationship as saying they supported it.

LIV Golf’s new look hasn’t yet translated into excitement among golf fans. Getty Images

The Harris survey also noted significant levels of interest in the upstart league among younger generations, a finding shared by the Morning Consult poll. A higher percentage of Gen Z fans reported tuning in to LIV’s product than from any other age range. For a league that has based its marketing efforts around being cooler, younger and more adept at reaching broad sports audiences, this is good news. The problem, however, is that the absence of a television rights deal has left the product struggling to reach viewers altogether. The league’s struggles in finding a broadcast partner — and later, in finding advertisers willing to attach their products to the Saudi Public Investment Fund, which finances the league — have left making inroads with sports fans of all shapes and sizes difficult.

As a whole, the poll paints an inconsistent picture for LIV Golf as the upstart league battles for market share with golf’s behemoths. For the tremendous amount of interest the league has generated in its first few months, it appears as though very little of that has translated into enthusiasm for its new product (or its players) among the greater golf public. Of course, there’s still time (the league plans to host seven more events in 2022) and, as we well know, plenty of money. But for the early stages of a “revolution,” the first returns have not been encouraging.

Those interested in gleaning more insights on the new league from Morning Consult’s survey can check out the full LIV Golf poll here.

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