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Apple, Amazon Passed on LIV Golf Media Rights

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LIV Golf has lured some of the world’s most famous golfers to its upstart golf league, but it is having a much more difficult time finding a major U.S. media partner to broadcast its tournaments.

Amazon.


AMZN -0.43%

com Inc. and

Apple Inc.


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have both passed on the media rights to LIV Golf, people familiar with the matter said, leaving the Saudi-backed circuit with a dwindling number of options.

The two tech giants were approached by LIV about potentially carrying its events on their streaming platforms, but neither expressed interest and talks never advanced to any serious negotiations, the people said.

LIV has been accused by critics of using golf to repair the reputation of Saudi Arabia after various human-rights abuses.

Amazon and Apple join a list of media platforms that have, so far, declined to carry the tour. LIV also hasn’t been able to strike a deal with networks including ESPN,

CBS,

NBC and Fox, people familiar with the matter said.

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CBS, NBC and ESPN have deals with the PGA Tour, which is in an increasingly contentious feud with LIV. Fox carries several major sports including National Football League games and college football.

Fox

parent Fox Corp. and Wall Street Journal parent

News Corp

share common ownership.

A LIV Golf executive said it was too early to characterize anyone as being firmly in the mix or out yet. LIV is beginning to enter the auction phase for its media rights, the executive said, in advance of the circuit’s first full season in 2023 when it plans to have a deal, with a significant rights fee, in place.

One of the biggest questions for LIV since its launch earlier this year has been whether it would be able to secure the type of lucrative media rights deal that underpins the riches of professional sports leagues.

The LIV executive said the tour wanted to make its events available directly to consumers this year to prove its product.

In the U.S., LIV, which will host its fifth event this week, can be watched free of charge on platforms including

Alphabet Inc.’s

YouTube and LIV’s website. It is also available on sports-streaming service DAZN.

LIV also has various deals to air its events overseas this year.

The upstart tour, which is financed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund, has announced $2 billion in investments and has spent gobs of money attracting big-name players. The record-breaking, $25 million prize funds at the events are also richer than what has been offered by the PGA Tour. Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau are among the superstars who have signed on with LIV. It has continued to grow its stable of high-profile players throughout the year, including the recent addition of British Open champion Cameron Smith.

LIV has splurged on a number of high-profile personalities for its own productions. Longtime commentator David Feherty, who had done golf on both NBC and CBS previously, is part of a broadcast team that includes play-by-play announcer Arlo White, who previously had called English Premier League games.

“We’re bullish about our prospects given our player field and the quality of our product,” said LIV Golf Chief Media Officer Will Staeger.

The new circuit has generated significant controversy—both because of the fissure it has created in professional golf and the source of its funding. Critics say LIV Golf exists to use golf’s popularity as a means to repair the global reputation of the kingdom after various human-rights abuses such as the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

LIV has denied so-called sportswashing claims and said its mission is to grow the game of golf across the globe with a fun, new format. Its tournaments are 54 holes while featuring both a team element and “shotgun” starts in which the players all start at the same time across various holes on the course.

The PGA Tour, meanwhile, has suspended the golfers who have joined LIV, while others who left resigned their Tour memberships. The fracture has spawned an antitrust lawsuit from LIV and various players against the PGA Tour, challenging their suspensions.

While big networks have traditionally gobbled up the most valuable sports media, streaming platforms have increasingly emerged as players. Amazon struck a deal last year for rights to the NFL’s Thursday Night Football for $1.2 billion annually. Apple and

Comcast Corp.’s

Peacock have also entered the mix with Major League Baseball games.

Write to Andrew Beaton at [email protected] and Joe Flint at [email protected]

Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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