LIV On CW: Behind Nexstar’s Drive To Secure TV Stations For Controversial Golf League

Earlier this month, The CW proudly trumpeted how the 2023 LIV Golf League season will air in 100% of markets across the U.S. The 14-event schedule kicks off Friday at the El Camaleón Mayakoba Golf Course in Mexico, with the CW app streaming coverage on Fridays and linear CW broadcast picking up on Saturdays and Sundays.

What was missing from the surprise announcement last week was the list of CW affiliates that declined to air the Saudi-funded tour that has deeply divided professional golf (and kept CBS/Paramount, NBCUniversal and Disney/ESPN on the sidelines when LIV looked to upgrade its media deal in year two after launching last year with free YouTube streams). Since CW affiliates are only contractually obligated to air primetime programming, all eight of the CBS-owned CW affiliates declined to air the weekend tourneys. So did the Weigel-owned CW affiliate WCIU in Chicago, and Tegna-owned CW stations like KFMB in San Diego and WCCT in Hartford-New Haven, CT.

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In markets like Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Tampa and Hartford — where CBS and Weigel have those CW affiliates — other local stations will air LIV instead. “At the end of the day, a local station in every major market will be carrying LIV golf,” one insider told Deadline.

A spokesman for CBS declined to comment about the decision to keep LIV off of its station group, though it’s likely because of the network’s longstanding relationship with the PGA.

Deadline hears the Scripps-owned CW affiliates were late in agreeing to air LIV, only because of a recent decision to lean more heavily into local sports. And there’s been lots of rumormongering involving Sinclair, one of CW’s largest station groups that agreed to carry LIV. Talk is that Sinclair not only took its time to sign onto LIV, but is receiving some sort of compensation — either directly or in other ways — to air the controversial tour.

Sinclair is certainly in a position to negotiate for the best possible arrangement with LIV since its affiliation agreement with CW expires in August. A spokesperson for Sinclair declined to comment, while a spokesperson for CW said the network is not compensating Sinclair for carrying LIV Golf.

Unfortunately, the CW wouldn’t put execs like Nexstar president Sean Compton — supposedly a key architect in the LIV deal — or CW president Dennis Miller on the phone with Deadline. For as big a deal this supposedly is, that’s an odd strategy from a corporate standpoint.

Now that Nexstar controls CW, it remains to be seen how the network will address any advertiser concerns about the DNA of LIV. (Nexstar last year acquired 75% of the CW for no cash or stock up front, agreeing to take on its debt as prior 50-50 partners Paramount and Warner Bros Discovery agreed to retain 12.5% stakes. The move vaulted the company, which owns cable network NewsNation and the largest string of local TV stations in the U.S., into new territory as a seller of national ads.)

After companies like Adidas recently ended sponsorship of LIV players Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia, it’s likely that ad buyers will take a very conservative approach toward LIV. One major agency source, who asked not to be named, told Deadline that none of its blue-chip clients had made commitments to LIV as of yet. “Some that are potentially interested are waiting on the sideline to see if there is any pushback once it starts to air,” the source said.

Deadline is hearing that CW secured a few smallish advertisers for national buys, thought it’s likely the broadcast will limit breaks — at least in the first weekend. For now, one insider explains that the hope is to focus on “an exceptional experience for the viewer with as little interruption as possible” — which could provide handy cover if demand is light. In the meantime, “local affiliates could not be more excited to carry live sports and also have premium time in the events to sell locally that their local advertisers are excited to be a part of,” the insider adds.

Whatever ad revenue the CW does collect, it will split with LIV, Deadline understands. There was no rights fee.

It’s also unclear what expectations are for viewership, particularly since CW hasn’t asked Nielsen to measure this weekend’s play. (Discussions are apparently ongoing and more information is expected in the near future.) Past LIV Golf tourneys weren’t exactly barnburners: Last July’s event at Donald Trump’s Bedminster, NJ course reportedly averaged fewer than 1,000 people on the Facebook Live feed, and LIV Golf’s YouTube channel drew around 60,000 viewers for the Saturday round.

As with all LIV Golf events that involve team play, there is a $20 million purse split among all players for this weekend’s tourney in Mexico (which will occur on a course designed by Greg Norman, LIV’s CEO). The winner takes home an extra $5 million, while another $5 million is distributed among the top three teams. The name LIV, along with the generous purse, indicates a key difference between the upstart and the PGA Tour: LIV means “54” in Roman numerals, aka the number of holes played over three days, compared with the PGA’s traditional Thursday-to-Sunday 72 holes.

Arlo White will lead play-by-play alongside analysts David Feherty and Jerry Foltz in the booth, and Dom Boulet, Su-Ann Heng and Troy Mullins are providing coverage on the course and in feature segments.

After this weekend, events are planned for “all over the world,” a CW press release boasted, including at golf courses in Australia, Singapore and Spain, and three clubs in Washington DC, Florida and New Jersey — all owned by Trump.

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