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Why LIV Golf is playing the long game on its TV deal

Tim Baysinger
Jul 14, 2022
Illustration of a U.S. quarter on a golf tee
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

PGA challenger LIV Golf is willing to sacrifice TV exposure in order to get the league up and running quickly rather than hold back for a media rights deal, the league's executives tells Axios.

Why it matters: It's a bold gambit by LIV, which is going the opposite direction compared to similar upstart leagues like the USFL, which secured multiple TV partners before beginning play.

  • "We've been in active dialogue with all the major media companies for all of 2022, and there is significant interest. But our approach has been to launch the product and push it out there for the fans and then have an eye on 2023 and beyond," LIV's chief media officer Will Staeger says.

đź—Ż Tim's thought bubble: Once the novelty wears off, LIV could quickly become yesterday's news if it can't reach an audience. That's even more true for sponsors accustomed to the exposure from PGA Tour events.

State of play: LIV currently streams all of its U.S. matches on YouTube, Facebook and its own website.

  • Internationally, LIV has about 30 partners that cover 180 territories including Korea and sub-Saharan Africa.

Zoom out: LIV is led by golfing legend Greg Norman and bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund.

  • "Our objective, first and foremost this year, is to showcase the product. We're launching something new; it's very different. We understand that it is a change from what people are used to seeing in the golf world," LIV's president and COO Atul Kholsa says.
  • Saudi Arabia's involvement has drawn criticism due to the Middle Eastern country's poor record on human rights and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • "I think the focus from everybody, any partner that we're discussing with, is first and foremost, does the product work? Do fans care about it? And if that is going to work, then everything else falls into place. That's been sort of the immediate set of questions," Kholsa says.

The big picture: The appetite for sports rights, particularly among streaming services, has arguably never been greater.

  • The PGA Tour is getting nearly $700 million a year from NBCUniversal and Paramount Global for its new TV deal that began this year, plus an additional $75 million from Disney for ESPN+ streaming rights.

What they're saying: "They need a strategic media deal, one that probably involves established networks that are measured so that LIV and its players can transact with media companies, sponsors and advertisers at scale," Pat Crakes, a former Fox Sports executive who now works as a consultant, says.

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