The LIV Golf League promised to be “golf but louder,” but TV ratings for its season opener in Mexico last weekend suggested few people were listening or watching.
The CW’s inaugural live broadcast of the LIV Golf League drew an average of 289,000 viewers and a 0.18 household rating on Saturday and Sunday. The opening round on Friday was available to U.S. viewers on The CW app and the league’s official website.
Speaking to reporters during an earnings call on Tuesday, Perry Sook, CEO of Nexstar, The CW’s parent company, said it was still a good start for the circuit, which is being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and fronted by two-time Open Championship winner Greg Norman.
Sook told reporters that 1.4 million people watched at least a few minutes of the LIV Golf League tournament at Mayakoba, either across The CW broadcast network or on the CW App.
“Those numbers exceeded our expectations and, and most importantly, the affiliates as well as our own stations were thrilled,” Sook said. “I know that our affiliates and CW affiliates in the top 10 markets generated about three times the amount of money that the network generated for this first outing, and so it’s selling very well, and you know, and I think will continue to grow as we get more into the season and more involved.”
LIV Golf’s ratings didn’t come close to matching those of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic, which averaged about 593,000 viewers on the Golf Channel and about 2 million viewers on NBC on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
With the Honda Classic sandwiched between four of the PGA Tour’s biggest events, most of the tour’s top stars didn’t play in the tournament. In fact, none of the top 17 players in the world competed in the opening event of the tour’s Florida swing, with most focusing on two upcoming designated events, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players. The Honda Classic’s weak field was one of the reasons LIV Golf decided to stage its first event last week.
There at least was some drama in the Honda Classic: Chris Kirk defeated rookie Eric Cole in a playoff to win for the first time in nearly eight years on Sunday.
There wasn’t nearly as much intrigue in Mexico: Charles Howell III won the individual title by four strokes and his Crushers GC squad won the team title by nine shots.
Tiger Woods’ return from a more than seven-month layoff at The Genesis on Feb. 16-19 averaged 3.12 million viewers on CBS on the weekend, a 32% increase from the same event in 2022. Final-round coverage drew a 2.1 rating and an average of 3.42 million viewers.
It is LIV Golf’s second year of competition, after it signed several former PGA Tour stars, including Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Phil Mickelson and Cameron Smith. The inaugural season’s events were broadcast on YouTube, the league’s official website and the streaming service DAZN.
Brandon Katz, an entertainment industry strategist with Parrot Analytics, said it’s too early to know whether LIV Golf and The CW will be a successful partnership.
“This is The CW’s first foray into live sports,” Katz told ESPN. “They’re doing it with an embryonic sports league. It takes a long time to shape and condition viewership behavior among audiences. People are not used to associating The CW with live sports, so there is going to be a runway, a transitional period, as they attempt to familiarize their audience and the audience they’re hoping to reach with this new big offering. To compare them to PGA numbers at this earlier juncture is a tough swallow.”
Katz said linear sports continue to be the No. 1 gateway for linear TV and increasingly for streaming services, and sports are still bigger attractions than scripted series and other entertainment offerings.
“Obviously, this is an upstart league trying to take on an incumbent and that’s going to take time and money,” Katz said. “We know they’ve got a big financial runway. I think what you want to see is growth over these events for the first year. You would definitely want to see tournament-over-tournament increases. I think it takes a long time to establish a new league and make sure that the audiences are aware and the right audiences you want to expand into are aware.”
LIV Golf’s next event is in Tucson, Arizona, on March 17-19. It will go head-to-head against the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship, which is also a non-designated tournament.