LIV’s TV deal and a case for the middle-ground in the politics of golf

Mark McGowan
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Peter Uihlein at the LIV Golf Invitational - Jeddah (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/LIV Golf via Getty Images)

Brexit, Trump, Black Lives Matter, lockdowns, vaccines, immigration, climate change, I could go on, but nowadays, it’s getting difficult to publicly take a genuinely central position on anything remotely political.

Now, before people start sharpening their pitchforks, we’re not going to be espousing any political agendas here, that’s merely an observation, but as the binary mindset has become more and more commonplace in society, it’s hardly surprising that it’s slowly but surely been seeping into sport, and naturally, golf is no exception.

And when it comes to golfing politics, we’re talking LIV, of course.

In the black and white world we live in – at least in media circles anyway – it would appear that for most of golf’s press, LIV is an abomination. They see no positive angles of any sort, and each and every move LIV make is to be derided with matching fervour and delight. And the recent announcement of the US television deal was no exception.

CW is America’s 29th most popular TV network apparently, and this of course, was another reason to poke fun at Greg Norman and his Saudi pals. But, I mean, who cares really? Nobody is watching the PGA Tour broadcast on CBS because it comes on after The Big Bang Theory, or whatever other suitably appalling thing I imagine it follows in the scheduling.

Outside of the majors, golf doesn’t attract the casual viewer anyway. You’re either going to tune in because you want to watch the John Deere Classic or Farmers Insurance Open, or you’ll skip right past. If you want to watch LIV Mexico at the end of February, and you have access to a television channel showing it, you’ll do so, regardless of whether it’s on CBS, NBC or the CW Network.

That SKY Sports and BT have reportedly passed up a free rights agreement is a more worthy stick to beat them with, but the former already has the PGA Tour and DP World Tour rights, with certain LPGA events thrown in the mix as well, so I’d argue that they were never a likely candidate. BT, on the other hand, to the best of my memory, have never broadcast golf of any sort. In fact, with football, rugby, mixed-martial-arts, moto GP, boxing and rugby being the core sports that they’ve acquired rights for, there is a trend towards high-octane, adrenaline inducing endeavours, with cricket being the obvious outlier.

But cricket also happens to be one of the most widely-viewed sports in the world, is huge in the UK, and golf, well, it’s just not that exciting. And I say that as somebody who’s semi-obsessed with the game and make my living from it.

Likewise, those on the other side of the fence – and by that, I mean way on the other side because the middle-ground is a barren wasteland – heralding the broadcast deal as some sort of major coup are equally laughable. Here you have network providers being approached with programming for which they’ll reportedly be paying nothing and splitting advert revenue in the process. Of course they were going to get a TV deal! When you take all the elements of risk out of the equation, it’s a no brainer for the network.

On the positive side for LIV, a television deal ‘legitimises’ it to an extent, not that it wasn’t legitimate before, but it gives them the opportunity to start recouping some of the huge financial expenses they’ve incurred in getting the project off the ground. But this a stepping-stone, nothing more, nothing less. If LIV is to be a viable project in the long term, they are going to need to secure major broadcast deals on a global scale, and a split ad revenue arrangement with LIV covering production costs – as has been widely reported – is a long way from that.

The Saudi PIF’s pockets may be extremely deep, but you’d have to think that they’ll not keep digging in them indefinitely if it’s all one-way traffic.

LIV have been quiet of late apart from their schedule announcement this week, and with just over a month to go until their season-opener, have announced no new signings, appear no closer to resolving their OWGR issues, and have seen their Chief Operating Officer quit… but this time last year they were a concept and nothing more, and Phil Mickelson, courtesy of Alan Shipnuck, had unwittingly set a depth charge that for all intents and purposes, looked to have stopped LIV in its tracks.

Yet here we are, ten weeks from the Masters, and 16 LIV players will be at Augusta National. That’s progress at levels few could’ve foreseen eleven months ago.

To bring it back to politics, a fitting slogan could be ‘A lot done, more to do.’

Take that how you’d like.

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