Given his knack for recasting painful indignities as gritty triumphs, it’s surprising that Greg Norman doesn’t annually present himself at the gate of Augusta National in a green jacket and insisting that what happened in 1996 – or ’86, ’87, ’89 and ’99 – was in Reality is a victory that deserves a place in the Champions’ Dinner.
“A big day for LIV Golf,” Norman described his just-announced broadcast deal with The CW, the 25th-most-watched network in the country, or 29th if you’re chasing the 18-49 demographic who might be drawn to “golf, but louder.” (To be fair, the average CW viewer is 58, so they watch every show louder.)
Alert for an opportunity to impress his boss, LIV’s chief media officer Will Steiger conjured up a version of events that would call for restraint even by George Santos.
“After a competitive bidding window with several networks and broadcast platforms in the US, the 2022 sports story has just moved to center stage for the top story of 2023,” he wrote in a social media post.
Steiger’s comment raises two questions for those of us cynics: Did autocorrect change “begging” to “bidding,” and how does a competitive process between multiple parties result in giving away the product for free to the worst option?
Mute marketing and the reality of this deal must have been frustrating for LIV and her hookworm hanger. No money was exchanged, no network (major or minor) was willing to pay a fee for the product, and not a single legitimate sponsor was attached to it. These are just the facts now emerging.
The agreement has been described as revenue sharing, though LIV currently generates no revenue, at least not for itself (MBS’s checkbook has blessed many jaded players, managers, and politicians with revenue beyond its worth). Sympathetic sponsors could materialize, especially if the Saudi Public Investment Fund—which owns 93% of the LIV and covers 100% of its costs, all while claiming not to be subject to US laws as it does here—puts pressure on its partners.
The ad could eventually provide a bonus for The CW, but it wouldn’t cover LIV’s production costs, let alone the premiums it’s already paid to own Bryson’s tantrums and Brooks’ melancholy. It’s worth noting that The CW isn’t subject to standard Nielsen viewership ratings outside of primetime on weekdays, so actual audience numbers for LIV’s broadcast won’t be available, or at least unsecured. Advertisers will demand reporting metrics based on something more credible than Greg.
It’s also unclear how many people will actually be able to access the LIV broadcast. The Friday rounds will only be available to stream live on the CW app, which the press release boasted has been downloaded 90 million times (a quick scan of your smartphone will tell the difference between downloading the app and actually using it). Saturday and Sunday rounds will air on The CW stations. Maybe.
Nexstar Media Group is the parent company of The CW and owns roughly a third of its television stations. The rest are affiliates and can choose whether or not to clear scheduled programming — whether reruns of teen dramas or local sports — to broadcast the LIV tournaments. The announcement of the number of stations committed to broadcasting LIV has been removed. It is unfortunate that one day he will be called upon to explain to Mohammed bin Salman why some markets prefer a Buffy the Vampire Slayer remake to his $2 billion crap.
Undaunted, Norman pointed out, The CW is available in 120 million American homes. Streams of the LIV events on YouTube were available on every connected device globally, yet audience numbers were bleak, showing a relentless decline after early Curiosity sampling. There are several possible explanations for why LIV failed to gain traction with fans—the format, the veterans of the lineup, the insignificance of the competition, the flashy plays, and the source of funding. Ease of access to streaming tournaments may have been another factor, but it takes a lot of optimism to believe The CW will maintain better results than its 2.6 billion active YouTube users.
Despite all the detail Norman and his team provided, LIV simply found a lower storefront for the same product that was overlooked when giving it the largest possible platform. What was announced this week isn’t a radio deal so much as a hard sell, and that doesn’t mean anyone was willing to pay for it.
The LIV Golf questions that need answers in 2023
The story originally appeared on GolfWeek