It’s a fascinating plot. Much in the vein of long-winded thriller novellas in which seemingly disconnected elements coalesce in an unprecedented way. In fact this entire LIV golf saga: the launch of the league, the astronomical monies offered to some of the best players in the world to defect to the new league, all the drama and conflict with the PGA Tour and DP World Tour alliance—this is potboiler stuff. Stranger than fiction? It’s a bonafide soap opera.
The most recent twist to the story has its genesis in a corporate buyout that had nothing to do with golf. Nexstar Media Group, Inc., a leading diversified media company in the US bought the fifth largest network—The Company (The CW)—in that country. That acquisition took Nexstar to the top of the heap: the network now owns America’s largest local broadcasting group comprised of top network affiliates, with 200 owned or partner stations in 116 US markets reaching 212 million people. The CW isn’t familiar to us in India, but some of its original programming shows which include Supernatural and Gossip Girl are well known. The purpose of this long-winded context is not just LIV Golf’s partnership with The CW for live broadcast of the tourney. That’s a critical achievement for the fledgling tour, and more on that later. No, the really juicy nugget in this scenario revolves around the previous owners of The CW, both of whom continue to hold a minority stake (12.5%) in the network. And both—Paramount (CBS) and Warner Media (Discovery)—also happen to be broadcast partners in the US of the PGA Tour. So in a way, that makes both networks invested in LIV Golf’s success. And that, given the PGA Tour’s stance against the Saudi-backed LIV Golf, is tantamount to a conflict of interest. It’s no secret that money makes professional sports tours tick. That’s really the whole idea behind the operation. Run a tour, get fans’ interest, sell broadcasting rights, make merchandise, and so on. Now the details of LIV Golf’s deal with The CW have not yet been revealed.
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What we do know is that it’s a ‘multi-year’ deal, and, unlike what was expected, the Tour will not be paying the network (a bizarre arrangement that in any case only gave fodder to LIV Golf’s critics). “This is a momentous day for LIV Golf as this partnership is about more than just media rights,” LIV Golf’s CEO Greg Norman said in a release announcing the agreement. “The CW will provide accessibility for our fans and maximum exposure for our athletes and partners as their reach includes more than 120 million households across the United States.” So that’s that in a nutshell: before commencing its second season, LIV Golf has been successful in its year-long search for a broadcast partner. And unwittingly roped in two allies who might have a big say in how the conflict with the PGA Tour might be resolved.
The plot thickens. It’s not necessarily good news for us fans though. Unlike the PGA Tour, the DP WorldTour, and the Major Tournaments—all of which tend to be broadcast on different networks sending fans scouting for online viewing options, apps (remember GolfTv) and rogue feeds—LIV Golf was eminently accessible to the Indian viewer. Log on to Youtube and watch. Simple. That ends with this deal. The opening rounds of the Tour’s events will only be available to watch on The CW’s official app, while the remaining two rounds will be broadcast on the network and its partners as well as the app.
Does The CW have a partner in India? Some of the network’s shows are broadcast on Colors Infinity and some on Netflix, but I have no clue where the sports content could land up… we’ll figure it out soon enough. The important thing to note is that The CW is not in this for the love of the game. The Network clearly believes that there’s money to be made broadcasting LIV Golf’s events. “For the CW, our partnership with LIV Golf marks a significant milestone in our goal to re-engineer the network with quality, diversified programming for our viewers, advertisers and CW affiliates,” CW Network president Dennis Miller was quoted in a release announcing the agreement.
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“This also marks the first time in the CW’s 17-year history that the network is the exclusive broadcast home for live mainstream sports.” Whether LIV Golf will turn out to be a profitable venture for The CW remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the network will pull out all the stops in that endeavour. While a broadcasting deal was considered vital to LIV Golf’s existence, there’s still precious little to indicate the Tour’s long-term sustainability. There aren’t that many big names left on the PGA Tour who could potentially be turned into defectors. And the Tours’ efforts to secure world golf ranking points for its players have not yielded success yet. That makes joining LIV Golf a big deal for any player because it means giving upon any ambition to be known as a top-ranked player in the world. At the time of writing this column, LIV Golf has 48 players divided into 12 teams. Thebig draws include Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, and Cameron Smith.
There are 14 events scheduled this year with each event carrying a generous $25 million purse and an additional $5 million for team events. And in case you don’t already know, there’s no cut which means a guaranteed payday. It’s almost like you’re on a golf vacation with your competitive four-ball. And you’re getting paid to take it.Paid more money that you could ever dream of making on the PGA Tour. What would you do if you were a pro and this was offered to you? It’s not an easy one; and that’s why it’s unfair to pass judgement on LIV Golf members, and better days.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game