If you’re 50 or older and aren’t enjoying the Saudi rebel circuit with its 54-hole and shotgun-start format—not to mention the music, wacky team names, and YouTube coverage—then Phil Mickelson and LIV Golf’s production gurus are not related at all. Because you are part of the “terrible truth about golf”.
Mickelson was yelled at during Friday’s first round by a member of the gallery – “Do it for the Saudi royal family” – the third £20million event of the series at Trump National Bedminster – but the 52-year-old claims is not bothered and instead, The mission is focused on achieving a return on investment of over £2 billion from the Kingdom’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, including an advance payment of over £150 million to the six-time premier champion.
“As a sport and sport, viewership has grown by five years to an average age, I believe out of 64 we have to target the younger generation,” Mickelson said. “It’s going to be two ways. One, it’s not a 12-hour day, watching golf all day. You have four and a half hours [with the 48-man field all starting off different tees at the same time],
“Second, when a streaming partner comes along, it’s going to revolutionize the way we watch golf. You won’t have any commercials and you’ll do shot after shot and it will attract the attention of that younger generation. Will open up a lot of opportunities to get to. For 30 years we’ve tried to do this and it’s gone the other way.
As well as the team concept – which includes a separate leaderboard and prize money for four-man teams with names like Majestics, Fireball and Stinger – the target audience is central to the LIV gameplan. David Hill is the mastermind of the campaign to entice the new wave of golfers 18-35 to watch and play.
Hill’s appointment as executive advisor is big news in the TV world. The 76-year-old founded Sky in the UK in the eighties and then Sky Sports in 1991. Rupert Murdoch then took his fellow Australian to the US where he formed Fox Sports, winning the rights to the NFL. Hill isn’t one to pull his punches, as he insisted again in an apocalyptic interview last week, aiming for the output of the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.
‘Golf viewership is on the downhill ski slope’
“The terrible truth about golf is that the last statistics I’ve seen suggest that 50 percent of television viewers are over 65, which means they’re dead in 25 years,” Hill said. “And 78 percent is 50-plus. So what does that tell you? It tells you that the audience is dying.
“Golf viewership is downhill on the ski slopes. Golf on TV is something you go to sleep with. Monotone. What Greg [Norman, the LIV chief executive] wants to reverse that trend and for the first time in several decades produce golf that appeals. Our goal is to create something that is dramatic and exciting. And I don’t think, with all due respect, those are two adjectives you can apply to a golf tournament from week to week.
Hill is a fan of controversial boxing promoter Don King. “He always used to say ‘content is king and content is king,'” Hill said, before explaining that the most important aspect isn’t all the bells and whistles with the F1-style leaderboards and drones. “Announcer is key, because games are about man for man,” he said.
To that end, Hill has brought in David Feherty, a former Europe Ryder Cup player from Northern Ireland who has become a huge star on US networks, as an irreverent analyst. It is his first week with English football commentator Arlo White, who was thrown into the deep end at last month’s inaugural LIV event in Hertfordshire, tasked with presenting his first golf tournament.
And although Ferherty has earned ridicule on social media, relaying a conversation with Sergio García in which the Spaniard told him “the atmosphere is as close as the Ryder Cup”, as well as remarking that “I have seen everyone’s Wives are happy now that they have joined LIV”, the 63-year-old’s capture is a huge positive.
“We were thrilled to have David, because he really pokes fun at the commentary,” Hill said. “And we’re looking at a few others to add to it. It’s the commentary that does it. They’re the most important part of any manufacturer’s weapon.”
Of course, the platform is still more important and broadcasts are currently limited to the official website and streamed on DAZN in the US, but since it has a strong subscription base, the overwhelming majority of viewers are on YouTube. The viewership figures are yet to break the 100,000 mark for a day’s coverage.
Next year, the £332 million LIV Golf League begins with 12 set four-man teams in 14 events around the world – taking place in seven states – and a TV deal looks vital if the LGL is to be viable. But who and where and at what cost? The answers to those questions are increasingly being considered paramount.