LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed sportswashing venture that’s poached Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Phil Mickelson’s remaining dignity, does not currently have a media rights deal in place.
That matters much less for a league not designed to earn a profit, though it does limit visibility and therefore perhaps harms the viability of the league’s ability to accomplish its actual goal: laundering Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. To that end, it makes sense that LIV would attempt to find some kind of American distribution; it’s taking top American stars, after all, and holding the majority of its inaugural season of events in the United States.
But the major American networks are nearly all tied to a new deal with the PGA Tour; CBS, NBC, and Disney/ESPN all have broadcast or streaming agreements as part of a massive new deal that kicked in this year.
According to Kevin Draper at the New York Times, LIV executives tried to get around that barrier by approaching Fox with an offer to pay for airtime.
But the LIV tour got nowhere with those who might have aired its events in the United States. Representatives for LIV Golf spoke with most American broadcasters, but did not have substantive discussions about a media rights agreement with any of them, according to people familiar with those discussions. LIV broached the idea of buying time to show the London tournament on Fox — an inversion of the normal business relationship, where the media company pays the sports organization to show its event — but discussions did not go far.
In the end, the London tournament was not on American broadcast TV or popular sports streaming platforms such as Peacock and ESPN+. Instead, golf fans could watch it on the streaming service DAZN, YouTube, Facebook or LIV Golf’s website, without commercials.
If you want the best possible evidence that this is a league designed chiefly as a rebranding, image-washing exercise, the fact they went the Paid Programming route (and still couldn’t even do that) is a pretty great sign.
Fox didn’t bite, which makes sense; if they wanted to be in the world of golf broadcasting, this weekend’s U.S. Open wouldn’t be airing on NBC. (Or USA or Peacock, depending on which hour of the day you’re reading this.) The PGA Tour is almost certainly making its preferences clear to rights partners, and considering LIV successfully adding more top names would damage network investments in the PGA Tour (while also damaging the Tour itself), there’s not a ton of incentive for CBS or NBC or ESPN to jump on board.
Which leaves, for the moment, streaming it on YouTube and other sites, which didn’t attract a huge audience. LIV’s upcoming event in Portland, where more Americans are slated to join, could mean a viewership increase. But, again: it doesn’t really matter. Nothing about how we usually measure success or failure of a sporting event or league, financially or otherwise, applies here.
And while Fox didn’t bite this time, there’s a strong chance that some channel or streamer will end up taking their money at some point. That’s why this approach works; someone will always take the money, no matter where it comes from.