The LIV Golf 2023 finale. Oct 22, 2023; Doral, Florida, USA; Crushers GC team captain Bryson Dechambeau celebrates with teammates Paul Casey, Charles Howell III and Anirban Lahiri, winning the team championship during the final round of the LIV Golf Miami golf tournament at Trump National Doral. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

While discussions of if and how the proposed LIV Golf-PGA Tour merger will actually play out ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline remain up in the air, the controversial Saudi-backed series is going ahead with its broadcast plans for another year. Those will include the second and third (Saturday and Sundays) days of their events being televised on The CW again.

But, as per Josh Carpenter of Sports Business Journal, LIV is looking for bids for the Fridays of their events, which this year (the series’ first full season, following some 2022 events on YouTube) were only available on YouTube (under a $3 per matchday subscription), the LIV Golf Plus app, the The CW app, and Reach TV in airports and hotels. And they say they’re drawing some interest from other linear networks as well as streamers, and are citing that framework deal with the PGA Tour as providing “less obstruction.” Here’s more on that from Carpenter’s story:

“We’ve always intended, if they weren’t going to clear Friday for sports, which they have not done, then we’d go back to the marketplace for another partner, so a split package,” LIV Chief Media Officer Will Staeger told SBJ on Friday. “So, we’ve just now moved (to market), we’re having conversations with all major networks, for 2024.”

…“There’s less obstruction, so there are more networks that were on the bench before that are now listening or showing interest,” Staeger said. “We’re still a golf property in a competitive marketplace for golf, so even though there’s less obstruction and there’s conversations between the organizations, many networks have 5-10 year commitments in some cases for billions of dollars, so their resources are used up, their programming is used up. So, there’s not necessarily space on an NBC for us. But there are plenty of platforms that do have the space.”

Part of LIV’s pitch to interested TV companies is that it has the flexibility to sync its streaming and linear rights, he said. 

When LIV wound up with their CW deal in January, that came seemingly after not too much in the way of offers from other networks. LIV CEO Greg Norman (who drew fire for his comments that the Saudis have learned from their “mistakes” after that CW deal, and currently is facing uncertainty about his own future that he’s described as just “white noise“) said last fall they had “enormous” interest and were talking to four networks. But that was complicated given CBS, NBC, ESPN, and WBD’s ties to the PGA Tour, and the only actual report other than the eventual The CW deal was of an airtime buy on FS1 (which was later shot down).

It is possible that there is more network interest in LIV now that they’re not currently openly fighting with (or suing) the PGA Tour. But the ratings for the first year of the series on The CW definitely weren’t great. Per Nielsen’s linear estimates, their first events drew under 300,000 viewers, with those numbers declining over the year, and their regular season finale last Sunday from Saudi Arabia drew just 93,000 (but that was a tape-delayed broadcast airing at 1 p.m. ET opposite NFL windows). They have cited higher streaming numbers, but only released those individually for their first two events, although Staeger told Carpenter they plan to release an overall season roundup focused on streaming, which he says has “shown consistent growth.”

And we are seeing some notable new interest in sports rights in general from some corners, including what Scripps Sports has done with ION deals for the WNBA (which sometimes beat LIV head-to-head) and NWSL. (Much of the new interest from Scripps and others is focused on putting content formerly on cable regional sports networks on local broadcast TV affiliates, but that doesn’t really apply here; however, there are some levels of new interest in national deals too.) There are more and more sports going to streaming platforms, too, with Amazon striking a range of deals (including NFL, WNBA, and NWSL ones), Apple striking MLS and MLB deals, CBS, NBC, and ESPN continuing to sign deals with significant streaming components, and WBD now starting to incorporate more sports (both exclusively and non-exclusively) into Max.

Will all that lead to a significant further deal for LIV? That’s hard to say, especially with so much uncertainty around the series and the potential PGA Tour merger. And it is only their Friday content they’re taking to market here, with Saturdays and Sundays definitely with The CW for this year (and with an option for another year after that). But it’s notable to see them looking at a split package, and talking up “conversations with all major networks.” Those conversations haven’t produced much in the past for LIV, but maybe they will this time.

[Sports Business Journal]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.