The Washington Post

Saudi-backed LIV Golf struggled to attract viewers in TV debut


LIV Golf, the Saudi Arabiaback­ed renegade golf circuit, kicked off its second season last weekend. Charles Howell III shot a final-round 63 to win the event in Mexico, but the real milestone was that LIV Golf was on broadcast TV in the United States for the first time.

But in LIV’S first head-to-head TV matchup with the PGA Tour, its long-standing rival was the viewership winner.

According to Nielsen metrics shared with The Washington Post, LIV’S event drew an average of 286,000 viewers Saturday on the CW Network and 291,000 viewers Sunday.

NBC drew an average of 1.6 million viewers Saturday for the Honda Classic, a low-profile tournament that featured few of the tour’s big names. On Sunday, NBC had 2.4 million viewers; the tournament was the third-mostwatche­d sporting event of the day, trailing the NBA’S Los Angeles Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks on ABC and the NASCAR Cup Series race on Fox.

There are some caveats to the golf data. Linear TV numbers do not include viewers who streamed the events on NBC’S Peacock or on LIV’S app. And the PGA Tour event was available in more homes than LIV’S event because a number of CW stations showed other programmin­g instead.

LIV streamed all of its events on Youtube, DAZN and its website in the United States in its inaugural season. Viewership was low, and the league said finding a TV partner here was a top priority.

LIV had talks with a number of networks and streamers, including Amazon and Apple, and eventually found a home on the CW, not a traditiona­l destinatio­n for live sports but a channel that has wide distributi­on. Nexstar Media Group, which has ambitions to grow the CW into a competitor with the more establishe­d broadcast networks, assumed a 75 percent stake a year ago.

To LIV’S backers, the circuit is a well-funded competitio­n in profession­al golf, a market that has been dominated for decades by the PGA Tour, and a way for top golfers to earn richer paydays. To its detractors, the league, which is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, is an attempt to paper over the country’s human rights records.

The broadcast on the CW looked a lot like traditiona­l golf but with a few twists. LIV’S “Golf, but Louder” slogan meant music could be heard in the background on some holes, a noted departure from the whispers on the PGA Tour. The players wore matching shirts to designate LIV’S team format — and shorts, too.

LIV expanded this season from eight to 14 events, and the team format differenti­ates it from the PGA Tour. LIV events are three rounds, instead of four, and are condensed to fit into shorter TV windows.

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