LIV Golf has always faced an uphill battle for distribution on American television.
Obviously, there’s a morality issue in play. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t personally care about the Saudi government’s record on human rights, the record they’re spending billions on sports trying to launder, try to remember that while you might not care, a lot of advertisers do. Beyond the possible blowback, there’s also the fact that every major sports outlet aside from Fox already had deals in place with the PGA Tour.
This always made Fox the likeliest partner, but there were plenty of obstacles in place. For one, Fox Sports already exited the golf space, essentially paying NBC to take USGA rights. Beyond that, Fox doesn’t have a ton of weekend inventory thanks to football and college basketball commitments throughout the year, along with a variety of other properties.
Still, LIV is determined to approximate legitimacy, and it’s hard to do that while you’re streaming exclusively on YouTube to an embarrassingly small audience. Earlier in 2022 reports mentioned that LIV had considered buying airtime on a Fox network. Now, according to Golfweek’s Eamon Lynch, LIV is close to securing a deal that would see the upstart league pay Fox Sports for FS1 time.
Lynch references Sports Business Journal’s report that mentioned Jared Kushner has been involved in these negotiations, which feels about right for this story. As does Lynch’s note that the prospect of this deal isn’t exactly popular among Fox personnel.
A well-placed industry executive says LIV struck out with approaches to multiple broadcasters, including NBC, CBS, Disney, Apple and Amazon, and that Fox Sports got involved only at the behest of Lachlan Murdoch, the executive chairman and CEO of Fox Corp. Last month, Sports Business Journal reported that Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of Donald Trump, had been calling broadcasters trying to generate interest in a LIV television package. In 2021, Kushner’s private equity firm, Affinity Partners, secured $2 billion in funding from the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
“There were people at Fox who wanted nothing to do with this,” the source said. “They were forced to do it.”
As Kyle Porter put it nicely:
Former U.S. president's son-in-law involved in media company *being paid* to broadcast golf league funded by foreign government, which also directly funds son-in-law's equity firm and all of this after his father-in-law received money to host two of its events.
Very normal. https://t.co/VxdoXqUnMg
— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) September 28, 2022
LIV was always going to find a way to make this happen. There’s too much money and influence behind it, even though it says a lot when an operation would enlist Jared Kushner in a bid for respectability and legitimacy. This is why the PIF exists and operates like it does. There’s always someone out there willing to take money.
It does help, from a schadenfreude perspective, to read things like this from Lynch, detailing the ways Fox rejected LIV’s attempts to force their way onto a network:
LIV requested a rights fee for year two of any deal and a guaranteed time slot on network television but both proposals were rejected by Fox, according to a source familiar with the specifics of the conversations. It is believed Fox has offered to re-evaluate network placement at a later date. LIV will also be responsible for the production of its tournament broadcasts and for selling commercial sponsorships during its time slots, two tasks that would usually fall to a broadcast partner.
And then there’s this, which sums up LIV’s current efforts very well:
“Any advertiser who touches this will get blasted,” a longtime sports TV executive said. “It’s a weak product but it’s a tainted product on top of that.”
That a golf league with admittedly recognizable talent has to go full Paid Programming says absolutely everything about LIV’s toxicity. That’s probably only going to get worn down over time; if a sport is on television, it’s going to get a wider audience of people who might not be aware of any LIV-related controversy.
That’s the point, and it looks like LIV might finally find a partner willing to help make it happen.