Tom Carter, president and COO of The CW parent Nexstar Media Group, said the debut of Saudi-backed LIV Golf in late-February was a hit and could help pave the way for more sports coming to the network.
“It was very successful from our perspective,” Carter said during an appearance at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference. He said the average hourly audience was about 500,000, which he said was one-quarter to one-third the size of rival PGA Tour broadcasts of the same weekend’s Honda Classic. “But the PGA’s been around for 40 years and this was LIV’s first broadcast. So, we’re very excited about it.”
Nexstar acquired 75% ownership of The CW last fall for no upfront cash or stock considerations, instead agreeing to take on the debt of the network that had been a “financial disaster,” in Carter’s words. Prior joint venture partners Paramount and Warner Bros Discovery each retained 12.5% stakes. Nexstar has pledged to turn the network profitable by 2025 and is in the midst of overhauling its prime-time schedule, promising to replace a lineup long defined by young-skewing scripted dramas with a wider range of less-expensive programming. Along with an influx of unscripted fare, live news and sports are key parts of the new blueprint.
Early viewership for the LIV telecasts was initially reported to be poor, based on Nielsen metered market data, but subsequent numbers from measurement firm iSpot combined with internal LIV data boosted the tally. Last Friday, the CW said the telecasts and streams drew a total of 3.5 million viewers, with the CW app carrying Friday action and the broadcast network picking up the Saturday and Sunday rounds. LIV handles production for the broadcasts, which are the first ones outside of prime time for the CW. As Deadline reported last month, some CW stations have opted out of airing LIV, mainly due to conflicts with PGA rights held by their parents.
The company managed to secure a three-year deal with LIV “at very favorable rates,” Carter explained. The upstart golf circuit, which features a selection of former PGA pros including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and others who defected from the PGA for rich paydays, has generated a storm of controversy. In addition to the charges that the Saudis are using the new circuit for “sportswashing” purposes, LIV has also faced criticism for its array of innovations, many of which have not been particularly well-received by traditional golf fans. The two tours, meanwhile, are in a bitter legal fight, in which the PGA accuses LIV of poaching while LIV claims the PGA is a monopoly. Because of the PGA’s business ties with CBS/Paramount, NBCUniversal and Disney/ESPN, none of those companies bid on the media rights, nor did tech giants like Apple and Amazon despite their avid pushes into live sports of late.
Carter gestured at the feud in explaining how the matches wound up airing on the CW. “The PGA Tour had done a really nice job,” he said sarcastically, “of discouraging any of their media partners from bidding on LIV, which kind of left us and Fox, and Fox didn’t see the potential in it that we did.” In addition to helping fill out the CW’s offerings, Carter added, the broadcasts enable CW affiliates — of which Nexstar already owned a majority — to “reap substantial benefits.”
Along with golf, the NBA’s LA Clippers has 15 regular-season games airing on Nexstar’s LA station KTLA this season after the team reshuffled previous plans to supply them to regional network Bally Sports SoCal. RSNs like the ones branded Bally and operated by a unit of Nexstar rival Sinclair Broadcast Group, are careening toward bankruptcy due to secular increases in cord-cutting and other factors. Carter said he “would like to think” that Nexstar will add more sports to the mix, noting that many leagues and teams have been more willing to negotiate with the company as the RSNs have faded. “We’d like to do more,” he said. “It all depends on the economics. We’re here for a return. We want to put good programming on, which will benefit the affiliates, but at the same time we’re not going to overpay for programming.”
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