Perry Sook, CEO of The CW parent Nexstar, said the network’s deal this year to broadcast the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit has led to talks with “everyone” in the vibrant sports rights marketplace.
“It announced to the world that we were willing to program sports on the weekends,” he said of the transaction during a sit-down at a media conference hosted by Wall Street research firm SVB MoffettNathanson. Due to the staggering of rights expirations and negotiating windows, Sook said it’s hard to tell when the next live sports programming could join The CW’s lineup, but he noted particularly active conversations with Power 5 college conferences and motorsports groups. The next agreement could come together as soon as this fall, though Sook also said some appealing choices wouldn’t be available until 2026.
More from Deadline
Moderator Michael Nathanson described the LIV deal as a “risk-free” opportunity that “fell into your lap” last January, in part because other potential bidders took themselves out of the running due to ties with the rival PGA. The new tour has also been a controversial property given the Saudi government’s ties with human rights violations, terrorism and the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Because there were few other bidders (LIV debuted in 2022 with its tournaments only appearing on YouTube and other digital platforms), the deal was structured as a revenue-share arrangement without a rights fee for its first two years.
“Our affiliates were 100% for it,” Sook said. “Because it’s not a network time period on The CW, we cleared it in 48 hours around the country. And that was despite the CBS-owned CWs not taking it because of their relationship with the PGA.” He said the response from affiliates was essentially, “‘Are you kidding? Live sports? Give it to me.'” Deadline has reported the road to clearances was bumpier than the company has described publicly, with resistance from stations owned by Scripps, Weigel and other groups in addition to the CBS O&Os.
Last Sunday’s LIV event in Tulsa, OK ended in disappointment for local affiliates, as the linear broadcast abruptly shifted to the CW app during the middle of a three-hole playoff to decide the tournament. Stations joined previously scheduled infomercials or syndicated sitcoms. Dustin Johnson, a popular two-time major champion who defected from the PGA to LIV last year, was leading at the time of the flip and eventually won the tournament. Asked by Nathanson what the company has learned from broadcasting LIV so far, Sook quipped, “What we’ve learned is you probably don’t want to switch to the app with a three-man playoff with Dustin Johnson in it with three holes to go. But usage of the app on Sunday was up 340%, so life wasn’t all bad.”
Local stations who did embrace LIV saw it as a promising new sales opportunity compared with the syndicated fare and movies traditionally aired on weekends. “At the local level, this is selling like gangbusters,” Sook said. “Car dealers are not deeply involved in national or international geopolitical conversations. They want to move product. This is live sports. They’re all in.”
On the network side, sales have “improved every tournament” since LIV’s March debut, Sook said. “We have proved that it’s a quality product, it’s investable, there are sponsorship opportunities. So, we’re very pleased at taking this from signing the contract two weeks before we went on the air, not a lot of promotion, to steady growth. That’s really what the CW is all about from this point forward, steady growth.”
Reflecting on the early experience with pro golf and the potential of adding more sports down the road, Sook described LIV as “Mr. Right Now” given the serendipitous circumstances. Even so, he added, “it didn’t drop in our lap,” he said. “We had to go get it and we had to do a lot of selling but we did get it. They were willing to take a chance with us. We were willing to take a chance with them. I think both parties are pleased.”
Best of Deadline