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LIV Golf ‘absolutely needs a broadcast deal’: League president

BEDMINSTER, N.J. — LIV Golf's first round at Trump National Golf Club had a little bit of everything. The former president waved to fans from the first tee and parachuters crashed into the course with the American Flag to the tune of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck."

Yet, none of it was seen through traditional broadcast methods. Still in its nascent stages, the league that's committing more than $1 billion to reinvent professional golf still streams on YouTube (GOOG).

“At the end of the day, we absolutely need a broadcast deal," LIV Golf COO and President Atul Khosla said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “That is needed for any healthy sports league. Our objective this year has been to stand up the product, let fans take it in, and give us feedback on what’s working, what’s not working. We very much are looking forward to this summer of going into those conversations with broadcasters with the hope of having a broadcast deal for next year.”

Jul 29, 2022; Dustin Johnson walks up to the first tee during the first round of a LIV Golf tournament at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. (Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports)
Jul 29, 2022; Dustin Johnson walks up to the first tee during the first round of a LIV Golf tournament at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. (Jonathan Jones-USA TODAY Sports)

LIV Golf is a new golf tour bankrolled by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, which has generated controversy due to the country's history of human rights violations. It's been able to attract big-name players in the game like Phil Mickelson with a reported $200 million salary and Dustin Johnson at $125 million, which are reportedly more than double what they’ve earned in prize money over their entire careers.

The league has also pulled some broadcasting talent, namely David Feherty from NBC. On Friday, however, the New York Post reported former NBA star and current TNT personality Charles Barkley wouldn't be shifting over to LIV Golf. A driving factor in that decision was the inability to broadcast simultaneously with TNT and LIV Golf, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Jul 29, 2022; Bedminster, New Jersey, USA;  General course view during the first round of a LIV Golf tournament at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
General course view during the first round of a LIV Golf tournament at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

And while LIV Golf has the infrastructure with drone shots and mic'd up conversations, it can only be seen on YouTube, Meta (META), and the league website, for now.

Adding a broadcast partner could elevate the operation. Many broadcasters across the major networks like NBC (CMCSA), CBS (PARA), FOX (FOX), and ABC/ESPN (DIS) broadcast various sports at different times of the year. A streaming partner means more potential on-air talent and consistent coverage.

A streaming partner would 'revolutionize the way golf is viewed'

Sports media rights deals have reached well into the billions, with a growing number of tech companies entering the foray, including Apple (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN).

The growing media rights were a main driver for the recently released NFL record $11.1 billion in shared revenue and also helped the NBA raise its salary cap.

And while a startup league likely won't fetch those numbers, Khosla, who served as COO for the NFL's Tampa Buccaneers for five years prior to LIV, knows the importance of media rights to a league. While LIV hopes to change the traditional golf model, the new league plans to be traditional in its revenue generation.

Phil Mickelson gives a thumbs up at the 16th tee during the second round of the LIV Golf series on July 30, 2022 in Bedminster, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Phil Mickelson gives a thumbs up at the 16th tee during the second round of the LIV Golf series on July 30, 2022 in Bedminster, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“I don’t think we’re disrupting the classic league P&L [profit and loss],” Khosla said. “A classic P&L still needs a healthy media rights business, a healthy sponsorship business. Of course, yes, there’s some site revenue to be made. But to run a healthy league, you’re going to need those first two things.”

Phil Mickelson, the ring leader of the LIV movement, believes the new league’s unique play-style will be appealing to a streaming partner. LIV utilizes a “shotgun start” for its tournaments, which allows all 48 players to begin play at the same time. In traditional professional golf events, the tee times are scattered throughout the day so every player can start on Hole 1.

Shifting to a shotgun start takes what’s normally a 10-hour golf day and squeezes the action down to roughly four hours. Mickelson argued that condensation could help bring golf to a younger audience.

“When a streaming partner comes about, I think it’s going to revolutionize the way golf is viewed because you’ll have no commercials,” Mickelson said at the post-game presser. “You’ll have shot after shot after shot, and it will capture that younger generation’s attention span, and will open up a lot of opportunities to try and get the younger generation, which again we’ve tried to do for 30 years and it’s gone the other way.”

Jul 28, 2022; Bedminster, NJ, USA; Dustin Johnson (USA) during the LIV Invitational Pro-Am at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 28, 2022; Bedminster, NJ, USA; Dustin Johnson (USA) during the LIV Invitational Pro-Am at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Sports business experts previously told Yahoo Finance that the backlash over the league’s funding would be fleeting. The testament has proven true for the increasing number of players joining: Bubba Watson, a Masters champion, announced that he was headed to LIV during Friday’s round.

Now, as the narrative shifts toward how LIV could make enough money to compete with the PGA Tour, a streaming partner looms large.

"We think LIV is the future of golf," Khosla said, adding: "We're not doing anything that is new to the world of sports. There are teams that exist day in, day out in sports. There always have. We're just introducing it to golf. And we feel that these teams, over time, will develop franchise values. And there will be equity in these teams that an evaluation that goes with these teams."

Josh is a producer for Yahoo Finance.

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