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Golf business refutes LIV's account of audience

Tony Finau reacts to a putt on his way to winning the Rocket Mortgage Classic last month.Getty Images

Nearly all recent interviews with LIV officials or LIV players cover the same media topics. PGA Tour viewership is declining and that audience is dying.

LIV officials have relentlessly pounded this narrative as the main reason the Saudi-backed league was launched this year.The officials and their players want the sport to grow, right?

When asked about golf on TV, legendary producer David Hill, who consults with LIV, simply says, “The audience is dead.”

I can understand why LIV continues to use these issues. After all, golf’s TV audience is one of the oldest in all of sports.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

PGA Tour officials, television network executives, and advertisers are not running away from the age of their viewers, as those older viewers are also wealthy, educated, and serve as business decision makers. , jump on it. According to multiple interviews with media and advertising sales executives, the PGA Tour audience is not as old as the albatross LIV reveals.

It has become clear that the golf industry needs to do a better job defending its PGA Tour numbers.

In sports TV, younger audiences almost always mean better audiences. Since the dawn of television, network executives have made programming decisions based on the truism that young, skewed shows attract more advertisers and bring in more viewers.

Sponsors continue to be attracted to golf’s core older fans given their level of wealth, education and business clout.Getty Images

That’s why LIV events use shotgun starts, compressing a day’s worth of matches into a 4-5 hour TV package. Young fans want short sports.

It’s also why the LIV event is set up as a mini music festival, with rock and roll blaring across the course as golfers line up their putts. Quieter tones are for older people. Rock music is for children.

Several executives deeply involved in Golf’s media business disputed the story. Yes, network executives want younger viewers. But golf media has long embraced an aging audience.

Ad buyers referenced the Golf Channel pitch that changed its age — with the highest median age among sports networks (over 65 years old in total per day) — to attributes. This is because, as the Golf Channel’s sales pitch shows, its audience has the highest revenue levels and counts more C-level executives than any other channel.

Another point that the LIV people are trying to make is suggesting that it is the antidote to golf’s declining ratings. LIV executives often point to declining numbers on the PGA Tour as an area where business can be built.

However, an analysis of PGA Tour viewership numbers from 2013 to 2014 shows that CBS, NBC and Golf Channel viewership remained relatively stable.

For example, TV viewership for PGA Tour events on these three networks is up 7% from five years ago. Over the same period, the total amount of sports time spent on TV dropped by 6%, sources said.

So far this year, however, all four rounds of the event on these three networks have averaged 781,000 viewers, down 14% from the previous season.

PGA TOUR TV ratings have been inconsistent since LIV Golf’s first tournament in early June. CBS started off with a huge success at his RBC Canadian Open which set the largest final round viewership in 22 years. CBS’ John Deere Classic coverage of him, which aired over the weekend of July 4, marked his jump of 25%, including the best final round since 2015.

Sandwiched between those two events, however, was the Travelers Championship won by Xander Schauffele, who recorded a 36% drop on CBS.

LIV Golf has generated a lot of headlines so far, but has yet to secure a media deal in the US and online numbers are negligible.

Take, for example, the end of July, when the third tournament was held outside of New York City. The YouTube feed averaged just 74,000 concurrent feeds on Sunday. His CBS coverage of the Rocket Mortgage Classic of his PGA Tour on the same day averaged 2.5 million viewers.

LIV Golf has been forced to stream the event via YouTube, Facebook and its own website.

LIV executives say they expect to sign U.S. media deals by the end of the year. The problem is that most of the big media companies like CBS, ESPN, NBC and Warner Bros. Discovery have deep ties with the PGA Tour, and he’s unlikely to sign a deal with LIV anytime soon.

Considering Hill has been a Fox executive for over 20 years and LIV CEO Greg Norman has a personal relationship with Rupert Murdoch, Fox Sports is an outlier. But sources say he hasn’t had any substantive conversations about the deal.

It’s clear that networks and advertisers still see the PGA Tour as good business. It was only a few years ago that CBS, ESPN and NBC signed media deals and in total he signed a tour worth nearly $700 million a year. These deals will continue until 2030.

These deals are structured to make broadcast networks less dependent on ratings. The PGA Tour sells 75% of the ad sales inventory and the Network Ad Sales group sells the remaining 25%.

This means that every PGA Tour event benefits CBS and NBC. When it comes to the PGA Tour, the economic model of the network is stronger than ever.

Similarly, advertising sales executives do not view PGA Tour telecasts through the lens of ratings. Of course, they all want Tiger Woods to play in the final group on Sunday, but they’ll buy time on the PGA Tour to reach a unique audience.

“We found that people who watch golf don’t usually watch other sports,” said one ad buyer.

For now, it’s just the PGA Tour. Two ad buyers said their clients haven’t asked about LIVs—at least not yet. They also said he would not endorse the LIV at this time based on the uproar over human rights abuses from the Saudi government that funds the LIV.

Another key is distribution. Ad-buying executives said LIV won’t get much interest from advertisers if it continues to stream the event on YouTube and Facebook.

Editor’s Note: This story has been revised from the printed version.