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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Fox Sports Eyeing LIV Golf’s U.S. Media Rights

  • Fox canned LIV CEO Greg Norman as its lead golf analyst in 2016.
  • But business is business – and Fox is wide open in the golf category.
Charles Laberge/LIV Golf via Getty Images

Sports TV can make for strange bedfellows. Take Fox Sports and LIV Golf chief executive officer Greg Norman.

Six years after Fox fired Norman as its lead golf announcer, the network is the leading contender for LIV’s U.S. media rights, sources told Front Office Sports.

Will Staeger, chief media officer for the Saudi-backed golf league, declined to comment on specific companies. 

But he told Front Office Sports that LIV is in discussions with “virtually every major media company” as it begins the auction for its rights. 

“We want exposure. We want broad viewership,” Staeger said. “We want to be on a platform where viewers are accustomed to watching sports.”

As a working model, LIV’s looking at the TV growth of the Premier League on NBC and Formula 1 on ESPN and Netflix in the U.S., he added.

“When you look at those examples, they really epitomize the partner or partners that we want to find,” Staeger added. “Partners concerned with growing our property.“

Meanwhile, in an interview with ESPN1000 Chicago on Wednesday, Norman reported LIV was in talks with four potential bidders but declined to name names. “The interest coming across our plate right now is enormous,” he said.

The 67-year-old golf legend has never hid his bitterness about being sacked by Fox in 2016 after only a year on the job alongside Joe Buck.

A shocked Norman felt Fox scapegoated him for its own bumbling coverage and production problems at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. 

“I felt like I got rolled under the bus,” he told FOS last year.

Fox opted out of golf in 2020, selling the remaining seven years of its USGA rights deal to NBC. But Norman expressed the hope that Fox would return to the sport — and shake up stale TV coverage with its patented Fox attitude.  

“Golf needs it, actually. Quite honestly, listening to golf on TV gets rather boring. Because everybody says the same thing every time about everybody.”

Other business ties could smooth over lingering bad blood between Fox and Norman.

Fox is one of the few major U.S. sports networks open in the golf category. CBS Sports, NBC Sports, and ESPN all have existing deals with the rival PGA Tour.

Norman is close with the Australian tycoon Ruper Murdoch who owns Fox. Ditto legendary sports producer and fellow Aussie David Hill, who consulting for LIV. 

Together, Norman, Fox and Hill collaborated on the World Golf Tour in the 1990’s, noted the Daily Mail, a tour which presaged LIV Golf in many ways.

Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ biggest star, also sat down for a sympathetic one-on-one interview with Norman at former President Donald Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

Still, with live sports rights at a premium, Fox won’t be the only contender. One source told FOS there may be at least six legitimate bidders. LIV could have a deal by this season’s end in late October, but is content to wait for the best possible one and prepared to finish the current season without a deal in place if need be.

To date, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has committed at least $2.4 billion to the breakaway golf league — a nest egg of cash that gives LIV the flexibility to go without a TV deal for its first three years, said the source.

Fox declined to comment.

Meanwhile, LIV’s PR is improving. Just a few months ago, LIV stars like Phil Mickelson were crushed in the media for “sportswashing” Saudi Arabia’s history of human rights abuse and treatment of women.

But recent media coverage has focused more on big player signings like Cameron Smith, the PGA Tour’s counter-attack, and quality of play. 

One factor in network interest was the success of LIV’s Boston Invitational, where Dustin Johnson won his first LIV tournament in the league’s first-ever playoff. LIV recently signed Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz to welcome fans to that tournament.

Despite early predictions LIV would be too toxic for American networks, it now may be a question of when — not if — LIV Golf makes it to U.S. television.

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