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Greg Norman called it a “proud day.” Others not enamored of the LIV Golf product pounced.
The TV deal with the CW Network is for at least three years and is the latest move by LIV Golf in its quest to become relevant and financially viable, will take some time to play out, regardless of the ridicule.
The CW Network is not exactly front of mind for most sports fans. It has no other sports programming and its lineup is filled with syndicated shows and reruns. It became easy fodder for the naysayers.
But LIV Golf didn’t exactly have a lot of options. It wasn’t going to get a deal with CBS, NBC, Golf Channel, ESPN, TNT, TBS or USA. Fox Sports became an option, but apparently wanted a “time buy” in order to reach an agreement.
Norman, LIV Golf’s CEO and commissioner, said in an interview that there were other suitors, and that the CW proved to be the best option, with sponsors “lined up” to be part of the broadcasts.
“We have an Investor that wants ROI (return on investment),” Norman said. “Getting in 120 million homes helps us Accelerate that revenue opportunity. It was enlightening to see the magnitude of what this deal did in energizing our revenue side of the business.”
How lucrative it turns out to be is difficult to determine. This is not a traditional rights deal like you see in team sports or even with the PGA Tour, which is getting in the neighborhood of $700 million a year in fees from the various broadcast entities that carry tournaments.
LIV Golf is not receiving a rights fee but has an undisclosed revenue-sharing agreement with the CW Network. How robust the advertising Inventory will be is something to monitor and will be difficult to hide. The broadcasts will either have commercial interruptions or they won’t—or something in between.
A few other aspects make the situation less than ideal. There will be no over-the-air coverage on Friday, only streaming on the CW app (or LIV Golf’s website). Apparently there are various issues to work out with CW Network affiliates, which number more than 220 around the country.
There also won’t be free streaming on YouTube, the main vehicle for distribution in 2022. And it makes sense. LIV Golf wants to direct eyeballs to its television partner, an outlet that requires a cable subscription to watch via the app.
Another drawback: the CW Network is not rated by Nielsen outside prime time, which means getting proper viewership numbers might prove difficult.
Still, the CW Network is in more than 100 million homes. That’s more than ESPN, Golf Channel and USA Network, another place known for syndicated reruns—and one that carries the first two rounds of both the US Open and British Open because the distribution is greater than Golf Channel.
Will Staeger, LIV’s chief media officer, was prominent in the negotiations and has plenty of experience, having worked at ESPN as well as the WWE and Endeavor prior to joining LIV early on.
In an interview, Staeger nicely pushed back on the idea that a TV deal for LIV should be viewed as some long-overdue accomplishment.
“We launched our Invitational season in 2022, and this might be the fastest pathway from launch to a significant broadcast coverage deal in the history of a new league,” Staeger said. “It was effectively May of 2022 when we launched our 2022 season and here we are in January with a 14-event broadcast deal in the US that has all been very strategic and intentional.
“The whole plan when we elected to do our Invitational season was to prove out what we had. Top strength of field with players. A Formula 1-sort of format with both teams and individual players. A shotgun start that gives you a 4 ½ -hour experience whether in person or watching.”
Staeger said he believes there will be little impact on the number of golf shots shown, a selling point of the commercial-free LIV broadcasts in 2022. It is likely there will be commercial loads at the beginning and end of the broadcasts as long as a “halftime” type break during the middle.
How much commercial breaks might intrude on an Hourly basis remains to be seen—and likely might come down to how many sponsors LIV Golf and CW Network get to come on board.
Ultimately, that is what LIV needs, to showcase sponsors and try to sell the team aspect of its business model. The CW Network is a necessary part of that process and part of a bigger picture that is still unclear: are casual sports fans and regular golf fans going to be frequent consumers of the controversial league?