For the first few months of his LIV Golf career, Phil Mickelson was great for headlines…and not much else.
The six-time main champ has struggled hard in three games since joining the Junior League, earning a +26 cumulative score on the 144 holes he played. In two overtures in the 48-man LIV events, no cutouts, he finished no better than 34th. If his finish lasts Sunday at this weekend’s event at Trump Bedminster, Mickelson will have played only one of the nine LIV rounds below par.
More than his struggles in any one event, Mickelson’s game in general seemed disjointed, uncomfortable, and uncomfortable. Lefty seemed irritated by his cuteness since returning from his self-imposed break from professional golf, and his golf game looked pretty much the same.
However, Phil insists his discomfort on the course has nothing to do with his feelings about the new league, which is still in full bloom. In fact, he had already discovered two ways LIV “works” for professional golf, and perhaps most surprisingly, neither of them had anything to do with money.
“The reason I’m so high on LIV Golf is because it addresses the two areas that I’ve played on the Tour for 30 years, they tried and they suffered,” Phil told reporters earlier this week.
These areas, according to the $200 million man, are international growth and intergenerational growth.
On the topic of international growth, Michelson referred to the LIV schedule and the structure of its nodes. Unlike the PGA Tour – where players generally have the freedom to pick and choose which events they want to play in – LIV contracts require players to compete in each , ensuring a constant level of field strength each week. With the series planning to visit four countries in 2022 (and a host more in the coming years), Mickelson believes LIV will do better at attracting international audiences than the efforts that came before it.
“LIV has an opportunity to bring professional golf around the world,” said Mickelson. “The players here, when they sign up, we get a lot of money, we give up on our schedule and stick to wherever they put events we are going to be there, and then they have the ability to move professional golf around the world. I think that’s really important because we’re trying The development of golf all over the world. We may not feel that here in the US, but globally I think that will have a huge impact.”
To that end, Mickelson was not wrong: LIV Do It has broader international goals than the PGA Tour, and it also has the means to make sure its best players travel internationally. But international growth also requires an element of international attention, of which there was not much in LIV’s early days. Tickets were available as cheap as $1 for Bedminster’s opening Friday tour, and baskets of free tickets are readily available for most LIV events. All this is to say nothing of the DP World Tour, which has invested heavily in finding growth in many of the same markets that LIV is now tracking.
The goal of expanding the boundaries of golf remains clear: to raise the profile of the sport with a new audience. Not coincidentally, the same can be said for Mickelson’s other proof of the LIV concept, intergenerational growth.
“The other thing is that as a game and as a sport, viewership went up five years to an average age of, I think, 64,” Mickelson said. “We have to target the younger generation.”
(so. Note: Updated golf viewing data has not been published for several years. Mickelson refers to a 2017 study from Sports Business Journal.)
As for how LIV might reverse golf’s trend toward an older viewership, Mickelson made a few arguments.
“First, it’s not a 12-hour day, we have to watch golf all day. You have a four-and-a-half hour window,” he said, referring to a league shotgun start format that condenses play into a single broadcast window.
“Secondly, when I think of a broadcast partner, I think it’s going to revolutionize the way you watch golf, because you’re not going to have commercials and you’re going to take shot after shot,” he continued. “It will attract the attention of the younger generation. We will open up a lot of opportunities to get the younger generation, which is something we have been trying to do for 30 years and it has gone the other way.”
LIV in particular does not have a broadcast partner, nor does it have any notable sponsors yet. Its programming is currently streaming for free (and ad-free) on YouTube and Facebook. While partnering with a subscription-based platform like Amazon Prime could allow the league to stream without commercials, even this may seem unlikely, given that commercials are a primary revenue source for many subscription-based platforms.
But broadcast partner Which Genre LIV could help lower the viewing age for golf in general, particularly given the league’s focus on attracting younger fans over the past several months. The hard part seems to be finding a partner willing to do business at a level that gives the Saudi-backed league the legitimacy (and revenue) it seeks.
Ultimately, these are the issues that LIV’s leadership, and not necessarily its players, will face on the path to long-term growth. Even if the league doesn’t convince golf stakeholders of its long-term existence, it appears to have gotten that message across to its most prominent players – or perhaps it was just the nine-figure signing bonus still sourcing its judgment.
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