The LIV Golf tour, which has been controversial since its launch last year, has finally found a home on U.S. television. The tour, which is funded by Saudi Arabia, has signed some of the biggest names in golf, including Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson.
Nexstar Media Group Inc. (NXST) is a media company that owns, operates, and acquires television stations and websites in the United States. The company was founded in 1996 and is headquartered in Irving, Texas. As of December 31, 2018, Nexstar Media Group Inc. operated 171 television stations.
The CW Network has reached a multiyear deal with LIV Golf to broadcast the league on its network. The CW Network acquired majority control of the network last year.
The terms of the deal were not revealed to the public.
LIV Golf's partnership with the CW will give it the potential to reach a wider audience. The first event is scheduled for Feb. 24-26 in Mexico. Up until now, LIV events have been available online for free, including in the U.S. on YouTube.
Greg Norman, Chief Executive and Commissioner of LIV Golf, said in a statement that the deal "will provide accessibility for our fans and maximum exposure for our athletes and partners."
The success of the partnership between LIV Golf and Saudi Arabia's sovereign-wealth fund will be a primary factor in determining LIV Golf's financial viability. Since LIV Golf launched last year, the fund has committed at least $2 billion to the rebel golf circuit, but it has lacked the main revenue drivers of major professional sports—lucrative media rights and sponsorship deals.
LIV has offered record-breaking prize funds at its tournaments and lucrative appearance fees to lure golfers such as Mr. Mickelson, Mr. Johnson and last year’s British Open champion, Cameron Smith. By poaching players from the PGA Tour, the Saudi-backed league has created a fissure in the sport.
LIV and the PGA Tour are locked in a court battle that is growing increasingly contentious. LIV and a handful of players are suing the Tour for allegedly violating antitrust law and behaving as a monopolist to dominate the professional golf industry. The Tour has countersued, accusing LIV of interfering with its deals in its mission to take over the sport, and has suspended the players that have bolted to the Saudi-backed upstart for violating their contracts.
Critics of the Saudi-backed Liverpool FC investment, including politicians and activists, have dubbed the enterprise as an exercise in "sportswashing" - using the halo effect of a popular sport to improve Saudi Arabia's public image.
LIV has responded to criticism by saying that its mission is to grow the game of golf globally with a new format that will engage fans. Its tournaments will feature 54 holes instead of the traditional 72, with limited fields and a team element.
In its inaugural season in 2022, LIV struggled to find commercial success. While the tournaments were free to watch online, tickets were widely available for cheap sums. LIV also struggled to find sponsors thus far. The real-estate developer ROSHN sponsored a LIV tournament, but ROSHN is also backed by the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
LIV was limited in its options for a U.S. media rights partner. CBS, NBC and ESPN all have deals with LIV's rival, the PGA Tour. According to The Wall Street Journal, both Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. had turned down LIV when it came to buying the rights to live sports.
The CW Network, which is known for programming teen and young-adult dramas, will air 14 LIV Golf events on its broadcast stations on weekends and stream them on the CW app. Friday LIV events won't be broadcast but will be available on the CW app.
Nexstar's decision to align with LIV Golf is the latest sign that the company is planning an overhaul of the CW Network. Nexstar owns 75% of the CW Network.
In a statement, CW Network President Dennis Miller said that the deal with Nexstar is a significant milestone in the network's goal to re-engineer itself. Nexstar executives have said that their goal is to attract an older audience to the network that is more in line with the viewers of its local television stations. Nexstar is the nation's largest owner of local TV stations.
Nexstar has been expanding its content business by taking control of the CW Network and also owning the cable news channel NewsNation and political news outlet The Hill.
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