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Paramount, Nexstar caught off-guard by PGA Tour, LIV Golf merger

The media companies that hold the telecast rights to professional golf say they didn't know the merger was coming.

The media companies that hold the telecast rights to professional golf say they didn't know the merger was coming.

The media companies that hold the domestic telecast rights to professional golf events organized by PGA Tour and LIV Golf were not included in discussions centered around a merger, according to numerous people who spoke with The Desk on Tuesday.

Executives at Paramount Global, Comcast, the Walt Disney Company and Nexstar Media Group only learned of the merger after it was formally announced during a segment on financial news channel CNBC early Tuesday morning, a proclamation that sent the sports media world into a frenzy.

For the moment, nothing changes in the broadcast world: Comcast’s NBC Sports, Paramount’s CBS and Disney’s ESPN will continue to air PGA Tour events, while Nexstar’s CW Network is expected to carry LIV Golf through the remainder of the year.

But the surprise consummation of two fierce professional golf organizations has rankled executives at all four media outlets, who spent the better part of two years crafting and executing business strategies around the idea that PGA Tour and LIV Golf would compete over the long-term.

Paramount has made some of the biggest business changes by far, with the company affirming earlier this year that its eight-owned CW Network stations would not air LIV Golf events distributed by Nexstar Media. The move was intended to placate the PGA Tour, who was locked in a legal dispute with LIV Golf at that time.

Nexstar eventually found local clearance in the eight affected markets, putting LIV Golf on other stations that weren’t affiliated with the CW Network (in Sacramento, LIV Golf aired on Hearst-owned KQCA, Channel 58).

Related: CW Network insulated from PGA Tour merger with LIV Golf for now

Paramount later doubled-down on its commitment to PGA Tour by announcing it would pull CW Network affiliation from its eight stations by September. The move would see those stations convert to independent outlets, with Paramount running local news and syndicated programming in place of CW Network shows.

Nexstar responded by purchasing local TV stations in some markets where the CW Network was set to lose an affiliated station. In Detroit, Nexstar-controlled Mission Broadcasting dropped $75 million to purchase independent station WADL (Channel 38), with the intention of moving CW Network programming there. Nexstar also purchased stations in San Diego and Sarasota, Florida, markets that will see CW Network programming shift between stations later this year.

After spending tens of millions of dollars on their various business strategies, executives at Paramount and Nexstar who spoke with The Desk on background are now wondering what the future holds for professional golf rights on their respective networks. At Nexstar, officials are publicly expressing enthusiasm for the merger, calling it an “exciting day to unify and grow the game of golf,” while affirming nothing on the CW Network’s schedule will change through the end of the year.

Behind the scenes, Nexstar executives are wondering whether the CW Network’s tenure as a sports broadcaster will be short-lived without another major deal. When the company announced it had secured LIV Golf rights earlier this year, it was characterized as a “multi-year deal,” but it only guaranteed 14 games telecast on CW Network and live-streamed through Nexstar-controlled platforms through 2023.

One person with knowledge of the agreement said the announcement only mentioned the 14 events because LIV Golf has not organized any additional events beyond this year, but affirmed the deal gives Nexstar rights to LIV Golf games well after 2023. That said, executives are left wondering if the coupling of PGA Tour and LIV Golf will see the unified organization producing tournaments under a single brand at some point, and how that will factor into who gets to air those events.

At Paramount, officials feel a bit more confident in their ability to continue offering telecast rights to PGA Tour games, and believe they are well-positioned to renew a bid for whatever the marriage between PGA Tour and LIV Golf brings in the future. Broadcast rights to PGA Tour are locked in at CBS through at least 2030.

CBS has aired PGA Tour events since the 1970s, and professional golf tournaments — specifically, the Masters — since the mid-1950s, making it the longest-tenured media partner of professional golf in America.

Whether that relationship will hold remains to be seen: Details of the agreement between PGA Tour and LIV Golf are still trickling out, and media executives have just as many questions about the deal as everyone else — and have gotten very few answers.

At Comcast, officials with NBC Universal said they were still learning more details about the deal, according to a statement published by Front Office Sports.

“[We] look forward to discussing the announcement and its implications with our partners,” the spokesperson said.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).