LIV Golf, the controversial Saudi Arabia-funded golf tour that launched last year and has signed the likes of Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, finally has a television home in the United States.
The terms of the deal were not disclosed.
For LIV Golf, a partnership with the CW will give it the potential to reach a wide audience. The first event is scheduled for February 24-26 in Mexico. Previously, LIV events were available online for free, including on YouTube in the US.
LIV Golf Chief Executive and Commissioner Greg Norman said in a statement that the deal will “provide accessibility for our fans and maximum visibility for our athletes and partners.”
The success of the partnership will be a key factor in determining LIV Golf’s financial viability. Since LIV Golf’s inception last year, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has committed at least $2 billion to the rebel golf circuit, but it has lacked the main sources of income of major professional sport – lucrative media rights and sponsorship deals.
To attract golfers such as Mr. Mickelson, Mr. Johnson and last year’s British Open champion Cameron Smith, LIV has offered record-breaking prize money and lucrative entry fees at its tournaments. By poaching players from the PGA Tour, the Saudi-backed league has created a rift in the sport.
LIV and the PGA Tour are locked in a court battle that is becoming increasingly contentious. LIV and a handful of players are suing the Tour for alleged antitrust violations and monopoly behavior to dominate the professional golf industry. The tour have sued, accusing LIV of interfering in its quest to take over the sport and suspending the players who fled to the Saudi-backed upstart for violating their contracts to have.
LIV’s critics, including politicians and activists, have described the venture as an exercise in “sports lingerie” – or using the halo effect of a popular sport to improve Saudi Arabia’s public image.
LIV has responded by saying its mission is to promote the game of golf worldwide with a new format to delight fans. Its tournaments have 54 holes instead of the traditional 72, with limited fields and a team element.
LIV Golf has attracted athletes like Cameron Smith with record-breaking prize money and lucrative appearance fees.
Photo: Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports
LIV’s inaugural season in 2022 saw little commercial success. While the tournaments were free to watch online, cheap tickets were widely available. LIV has also struggled to find sponsors so far. Real estate developer ROSHN sponsored a LIV tournament, but ROSHN is also backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
LIV’s options for a US media rights partner were limited. CBS, NBC and ESPN have contracts with LIV’s rivals, the PGA Tour. Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., which started buying the rights to live sports, had turned down LIV, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The CW Network, best known for programming teen and young adult drama, will air 14 LIV golf events on weekends on its stations and also stream them through the CW’s app. Friday LIV events will not broadcast but will be available on the CW app.
The decision to join LIV Golf is the latest sign that Nexstar, which owns 75% of the CW network, is planning a network overhaul.
Dennis Miller, president of the CW network, said in a statement that the deal is a “significant milestone in our goal to reshape the network.” Nexstar executives said their goal is to attract an older audience to the network, more in line with local TV stations’ viewers. Nexstar is the nation’s largest owner of local television networks.
Nextstar continues to expand into the content business. In addition to acquiring the CW Network, it also owns cable news channel NewsNation and political news outlet The Hill.
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