PGA Tour, LIV Golf announce merger

The CW will continue to air LIV Golf matches this year. After that, nobody knows.

With the surprise merger of the PGA Golf Tour and LIV Golf, the situation regarding TV rights is up the air. 

Announced Tuesday morning on CNBC, the PGA Tour, Europe’s DP World Tour, and LIV Golf merged – catching golfers on each professional tour off guard in a Survivor-style blindside with many golfers finding out the news on Twitter and other sources. The LIV Golf league debuted two years ago but mired in controversy as the league is owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Saudi Arabia is known for public rights abuses, including covering a murder of a journalist and also being involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks. The merger also ends all ligation between PGA and LIV, as the latter sued the PGA for claiming they had a monopoly of the sport, while the PGA sued LIV for comping their players’ contracts. Many have drawn parallels to the American Football League’s and National Football League’s merger in 1966. 

The PGA’s tournaments include The Masters, British Open, and the BMW Championship (with this year’s matched scheduled in south suburban Olympia Fields this August), among others. 

The merger no doubt is the biggest in the sport’s history – the only other big deal catching everyone off guard with no leaks was Fox’s acquisition of rights to NFC games in December 1993, ending CBS’ association with the NFL after 38 years and Fox stealing twelve affiliates from the Big 3 networks six months later – eight of them belonging to CBS. 

Reaction to the deal was a bit mixed, with some welcoming the news. But others lashed out, with the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee sayingthis is one of the ‘saddest days in the history of professional golf’. I do believe the governing bodies, the professional entities have sacrificed their principles for profit.”

As for the television aspect of this, The CW released a statement Tuesday saying they would continue to air LIV Golf contests for the rest of the year. In January, the Nexstar-owned network agreed to air the league, marking the first time the seventeen-year old channel airing sports programming on a regular basis. Several affiliates declined to air LIV Golf, including Chicago’s WCIU or CW 26 and was cleared on Nexstar’s WGN-TV instead. So far, The CW’s time with LIV hasn’t been smooth with ultra low-ratings and one instance recently where most CW stations went back to local programming during an event in Tulsa where matches were pushed back due to weather delays. 

Another problem is the lack of national advertising on CW telecasts. During one Saturday afternoon telecast this writer watched, the ad time was basically made up of WGN promos and ads for suburban car dealerships and heating/cooling services. Advertisers, sponsors, and media buyers would no doubt have concerns what a merged PGA-LIV-DP union would bring given all of these controversies.

Currently, CBS, NBC (whose parent Comcast also operates the Golf Channel), and ESPN all have rights to PGA Tour matches. The rights issues would have to be sorted out once those contracts expire – it is unclear at this time if The CW would get any PGA programming, but you can imagine the other three networks would fight like hell to keep their tournaments. 


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