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CW Network will air matches from Saudi-owned golf league LIV

Saudi Arabia-funded golf event sparks debate
Saudi Arabia-funded LIV golf tournament sparks controversy 05:19

The CW Network said Thursday it will air 14 events from LIV Golf — the Saudi Arabia-backed pro golf tour — on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, starting February 24 under a new broadcast partnership deal. 

The network, which is partially owned by CBS parent company Paramount Global, didn't disclose financial specifics of the multiyear deal. 

The LIV-CW announcement marks the league's first U.S. broadcast home, introducing it to American audiences who have historically only had exposure to professional golf from the PGA Tour on CBS, NBC and the Golf Channel. The deal also gives CW exclusive broadcast rights for a mainstream sports league, a first for the network, president Dennis Miller said in a statement. 

Golf junkies will now have a second outlet for watching live tee-offs, potentially setting up a fierce competition for viewership between the PGA and LIV — whose seasons partially overlap between February and August. The Roman numeral for 54, "LIV" refers to the number of holes to be played in LIV golf matches.

Viewers will soon be able to watch LIV league matches live on television or stream them on a mobile device. 

New PGA rival

Getting a network to air its matches makes LIV an even greater threat to the PGA Tour, said Tim Derdenger, a sports marketing and branding expert who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University. 

Derdenger said the CW is trying to introduce golf to the "prime millennial audience" of 30-somethings in hopes that viewership will grow and last for much longer than the fans who already watch the PGA Tour, most of whom are 55 or older. 

"You don't make money without a broadcasting deal like this," Derdenger told CBS MoneyWatch. "This will be a key part of their business plan going forward."

Sports broadcasting rights are a multibillion dollar industry once dominated entirely by television networks. 
PGA Tour viewership grew from 2.31 million in 2016-17 to 2.54 million in 2020-21, according to the Sports Business Journal. 

CBS, EPSN and NBC are under a nine-year contract to broadcast PGA Tour matches that ends in 2030, according to CBS Sports. In the meantime, the landscape is quickly changing.

Tech giants Apple, Amazon and Google have muscled their way into the space in recent years, after landing lucrative contracts with the NFL and MLB. The global value of sports broadcast rights rose to $55.1 billion in 2022 and is projected to climb to $61.6 billion by 2025, according to industry tracker Sports Business. 

Prior to CW, the LIV league live-streamed its matches on Facebook, YouTube and its website. Being on CW means players will get wider exposure and "more fans will experience the energy and innovative competition that LIV Golf is using to reinvigorate the sport," league commissioner Greg Norman said in a statement. 

LIV launched last year and marketed itself to pro golfers as an alternative to the PGA. LIV is financially backed by some of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest individuals, who pooled their money into one bucket called the Public Investment Fund. Even in its infancy, LIV has attracted some of golf's most prominent stars including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. 

LIV had its first exposure to American fans last year when the league held two of its events on courses owned by former President Donald Trump in Florida and New Jersey. 

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