The CW has reached a multi-year deal for the television rights to LIV Golf events, a deal that will raise the American profile of the controversial Saudi-backed league.
The deal 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, an emerging deep-pocketed rival to the PGA, is backed by the Saudi-owned Public Investment Fund. The league has been criticized as a means by the Saudi government to distract public attention from its record of human rights violations, including the torture of prisoners and people in police custody, the criminalization of public protests and discrimination against women. .
For years, investors from Saudi Arabia have sought to increase their stakes in the US entertainment industry. Saudi businessman Adel Ghazzawi sits on Triller’s board 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. Endeavour, which owns talent agency WME, returned a $400 million investment to the Saudi Arabian government following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey.
LIV Golf launched last year without a television deal, despite featuring major stars such as Phil Michelson, Sergio Garcia and Dustin Johnson. His events were broadcast live on Facebook and the sports streaming service DAZN.
All LIV Golf events will be available to US viewers for free, as the CW is an over-the-air network, as well as being available on cable and satellite systems.
The political radioactivity surrounding LIV Golf likely allowed the CW to make a black-tie deal. The network is not paying a fee upfront, 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 broadcast live coverage of 14 LIV Golf events on Saturdays and Sundays beginning February 24 at Mayakoba Resort’s El Camaleón course in Mexico. The Friday rounds will be broadcast on the CW app.
LIV Golf will produce 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 goal of expanding the network’s programming to reach audiences that will be tuned in to the local 10 pm newscasts on their stations.
As younger viewers migrate to streaming services to watch scripted dramas, sitcoms and movies, live sports remains the top 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 genre shows that were sold to streaming services and international broadcasters. (Currently, each of the companies has a 12.5% stake, while Nexstar owns 75%).
Nexstar is the largest owner of open television stations in the country. The Irving, Texas-based company’s portfolio also includes the NewsNation cable channel.