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LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour

LIV Golf accuses PGA Tour of sabotaging a previously signed media deal; calls the CW 'secondary network'

March 23, 2023
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Christian Petersen

Attorneys for LIV Golf claim the Saudi-backed circuit had a signed contract with a broadcast network only for the network to back out once the PGA Tour intervened, according to the latest court filings in the antitrust lawsuit between the two leagues.

Documents submitted late Wednesday night in U.S. District Court that were made available Thursday morning concern the pending deposition of PGA Tour executive Thierry Pascal, who is the managing director for the tour’s international media division. “Based on tour documents and other sources, LIV believes Mr. Pascal used illegal means to dissuade numerous broadcasters in international markets from signing broadcast contracts with LIV and even from reporting about LIV events in their news content,” LIV’s lawyers say in the filing.

LIV attorneys claim most of Pascal’s actions with broadcasters took place in person and thus were untraceable. But according to LIV, following Pascal's interactions with potential media partners, the partners in question no longer wanted to do business with LIV. This includes the accusation that a previously-signed contract was voided after Pascal intervened.

“Time and again, after the live meeting or phone call, the broadcaster did an about face and informed LIV the negotiations (in one case, a signed contract) could not proceed. Because of his conduct and his efforts to conceal it, Mr. Pascal is a foundational witness whose testimony will inform later discovery in important ways,” lawyers for LIV claim. In the filings, no evidence was produced that supported LIV's claim, and the broadcaster in question is not named.

LIV Golf claims that because of the interference it had to sign "with a secondary network, with LIV being its first sporting event." The network being referred to is the CW Network, LIV's only U.S. media partner.

During its inaugural season in 2022, nearly all of the major television subsidiaries in the U.S. showed little to no interest in LIV Golf in its first few months, sources told Golf Digest. The one wildcard was the FOX Corporation due to its ties with the fledgling league. FOX founder and media tycoon Rubert Murdoch has a personal relationship with LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman; the two attempted to create a “World Golf Tour'' in the mid-1990s, with Murdoch’s FOX Sports securing the TV rights. In January 2022, LIV Golf hired former FOX Sports President David Hill to help with production, and FOX News had a heavy presence at LIV Golf’s third event held at former President Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., property. In the fall, reports surfaced that FOX Sports was in discussions with LIV Golf.

However, it is unlikely the media partner in question is FOX, as the tour has no relationship with the entity in question. Multiple sources told Golf Digest talks broke down over rights fees, as LIV Golf viewed a media deal as a revenue generator while FOX Sports insisted on being paid for showing the product similar to an ad-buy. Golf Digest reported last year that the valuations of LIV Golf franchises, and the long-term viability of the league, hinged on securing a broadcast deal.

In January LIV did sign a deal with the CW Network, which has more than 200 affiliates in the U.S. and is mostly known for airing syndicated programming. But CW is not paying any rights fees to LIV; for context, the PGA Tour receives upwards of $700 million per year for its media partners. Instead LIV and the CW are sharing ad revenue generated from the broadcasts. LIV Golf is also believed to be paying for productions fees.

Pascal is scheduled to be deposed on Monday, although the PGA Tour wants the meeting to be remote rather than an in-person discussion.