Chances are the only people who give much thought about the LPGA having to pay for television time are hard-core LPGA supporters who want television networks to pay the LPGA for broadcast rights.
Most fans just turn on the television set and watch the women play, not giving a thought to the fact they are watching a time buy event. It is up to the LPGA to make money from commercials they sell and sponsors they find. That’s not true of all LPGA events and the number of time buys gets a little smaller every year, but that is how the LPGA has been seen on television for years and years.
Which brings us to the story that the LIV tour, the rival Saudi Arabian-backed tour that is battling the PGA Tour is apparently ready to strike a deal to buy time on Fox Sports 1 to show LIV events.
The LIV has been without a television partner since its debut event in June, but that might be changing through a time buy. Several reports, including Golfweek, say LIV is close to a deal with Fox Sports 1 to buy time to broadcast its events. For its part, the LIV has said the reports are inaccurate, but it is clear something is brewing that would put the pro golf circuit on television screens.
LIV has faced many questions as a startup sports organization, from concerns about the Saudi Arabian regime to where the money comes from to how legitimate the limited-field, 54-hole, no-cut format is compared to the PGA Tour or DP World Tour. But a big issue has been that LIV golf is not seen on television. It is instead streamed over YouTube, and the overall numbers for that streaming have been pretty low.
We live in a world of televised sports, almost to the point of a sport not existing if it is not on television. One of LIV’s television problems is that the usual sources for golf in this country such as NBC, CBS, ESPN/ABC and Golf Channel all have strong connections with the PGA Tour and affiliated organizations. So they weren’t going to work deals with LIV.
Dustin Johnson celebrates after putting to win the 2022 LIV Golf Invitational Boston after a final round playoff hole of the LIV Golf tournament at The International. (Photo: Richard Cashin/USA TODAY Sports)
Fox Sports wants more golf?
Fox Sports had a 10-year deal with the United States Golf Association to broadcast USGA events including the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women’s Open. But Fox Sports walked away from that deal, meaning it has no golf coverage. That made it the logical choice for LIV to consider. Still, it is reasonable to wonder why, with the LIV backers spending so much money on player contracts and purses for events, the tour hasn’t previously found a way to get on television. There are plenty of television options in this country, and many if not most of them would be interested in the money rather than any controversy LIV might bring.
Again, a time buy is basically just that, an organization buying a block of time on a network, say two or three hours. The organization then has the right to fill that block of time – within reason of course – with its own programming. The organization generally makes its money back by selling advertising during the period. A time buy gets a golf event on the air, but it also causes some problems if the golf goes beyond the time bought. That’s why you often see LPGA events cut off when there is still golf being played.
The networks pay the PGA Tour to broadcast its events, so golf can run beyond the end of a time period. That money from television is also one of the reasons LPGA purses lag behind PGA Tour purses.
Being on television won’t solve all of the problems that some people have with the LIV tour. Some fans will simply refuse to watch. But it will give fans who want to watch a chance to remember that Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson do still play golf for money. Television will give LIV the look and the feel of professional golf while also giving fans a chance to see what LIV believes is truly different about its tour.
Questions and lawsuits will remain, but a move to television will be important for LIV when it happens.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at email@example.com or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan.