CW Network will air Saudi-funded LIV Golf events
Published in Golf
The CW has reached a multiyear agreement for the TV rights to LIV Golf events, a deal that will raise the U.S. profile of the controversial Saudi-backed league.
The pact announced Thursday is the first major programming move for the CW under the ownership of Nexstar Media Group, which acquired a majority stake in the network last year.
LIV Golf — a deep-pocketed upstart rival of the PGA — is backed by the Public Investment Fund, owned by Saudi Arabia. The league has been criticized as a means for the Saudi government to distract public attention from its record of human rights violations that include torturing prisoners and people detained by police, criminalizing public protests and discrimination against women.
For years, investors from Saudi Arabia have been looking to increase their stakes in the U.S. entertainment industry. Saudi businessman Adel Ghazzawi sits on the board of Triller and is an investor in the Century City-based video-sharing social network.
Some companies have drawn a line in light of the regime's policies. Endeavor, owner of the WME talent agency, returned a $400-million investment to the Saudi Arabian government after the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
LIV Golf launched last year without a TV deal, despite having major stars such as Phil Michelson, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson as participants. Its events were streamed live on Facebook and the sports streaming service DAZN.
All LIV Golf events will be available to TV viewers throughout the U.S. for free, as the CW is an over-the-air broadcast network, in addition to being available on cable and satellite systems.
The political radioactivity surrounding LIV Golf probably enabled the CW to make an opportunistic deal. The network is not paying an upfront fee, according to people familiar with the negotiations who were not authorized to comment. Instead, it will sell commercial time for the events and share the revenue with LIV Golf.
The network will carry live coverage of 14 LIV Golf events on Saturdays and Sundays starting Feb. 24 at Mayakoba Resort's El Camaleón course in Mexico. Friday rounds will be streamed on the CW app.
LIV Golf will handle production of the events and provide its own on-air talent, including well-known former CBS golf analyst David Feherty.
Nexstar acquired the CW last year with the aim of broadening the network's programming to reach audiences that will stay tuned in for 10 p.m. local newscasts on its stations.
As younger viewers migrate to streaming services to watch scripted dramas, sitcoms and movies, live sports remains the best programming option for companies in the traditional TV business.
Under previous majority owners Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global, the network served as a launching pad for younger-skewing genre shows that were sold to streaming services and international broadcasters. (The companies currently each hold a 12.5% share while Nexstar owns 75%.)
Nexstar is the country's largest owner of broadcast TV stations. The Irving, Texas-based company's portfolio also includes the cable channel NewsNation.
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