Thursday September 28, 2023

PGA Tour’s Media Partners Blindsided By LIV Merger

  • Could the combined entity seek to renegotiate media rights deals?
  • And what happens to LIV’s new TV deal with The CW Network?
The PGA-LIV merger shocks the world.
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“Nobody had a f——- clue.”

That was the reaction of one sports media executive to the stunning news of the PGA Tour-LIVE Golf merger.

The PGA Tour’s U.S. media partners CBS Sports, NBC Sports/Golf Channel, and ESPN, were as blindsided as everybody else by Tuesday’s blockbuster announcement. 

As everybody was involved financially, they were burning up the phone lines trying to get firm answers from executives at PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

As of midday, there were far more questions than answers about the media implications of the mega-merger that ends golf’s civil war. Especially on the subject of whether the new super-entity will seek to renegotiate the PGA Tour’s current media rights deals. But here’s what Front Office Sports was hearing from multiple media executives Tuesday:

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  • The early take is that PGA Tour’s current media rights deals with NBC Sports/Golf Channel, CBS Sports and ESPN probably won’t be impacted. The PGA Tour and LIV are expected to remain separate brands. In 2020, NBC Sports/Golf Channel and CBS Sports signed contract extensions that will pay the PGA Tour $700 million per year for weekend coverage through 2030. ESPN signed a separate digital package for ESPN+, paying $75 million a year.
  • If anything, CBS, NBC/Golf Channel and ESPN’s rights should be even more valuable since they will eventually be able to again cover former PGA Tour superstars  like Phil Mickelson, PGA Championship winner Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson who defected to LIV.
  • But will a combined PGA Tour/LIV Golf/DP World Tour behemoth seek to negotiate the PGA Tour’s U.S. media rights deals once the dust settles? That’s the concern of TV partners. CNBC’s David Faber asked PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan the question directly – and the Commissioner danced around without giving a clear answer. “We’ve got great media partners. I know they will be excited about this announcement today. We’re going to create more value for them,” Monahan said.
  • Another question revolves around LIV’s new multi-year TV/streaming deal with The CW Network. In a statement to CNBC, The CW said there would be no changes to its LIV schedule this year. “We look forward to broadcasting seven more exciting tournaments this year featuring the world’s best golfers,” said the network. But another source said the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund could simply use its petro-dollars to buy out The CW – and move LIV events to TV networks with a more established golf audiences. 

“It appears this deal was made at the top level. All the details will come in behind it,” said another source.

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