Beyond The Course: Vol. 1

How one broadcast partnership could drive industry wide innovation

A recent report of mine (here) hinted that the hiring of Lawrence J. Burian, the new COO of LIV Golf, was influenced by his experience with broadcast and distribution partnerships during his tenure at Madison Square Garden Group. As EVP at MSG and later at MSG Entertainment Corp, he played a role in many negotiations that grew the corporation’s distribution potential greatly. His earlier roles at Cablevision (a top 5 cable provider in the US) and a law firm dealing with mergers and strategic partnerships enriched his expertise. Specifically, during his time at MSG, MSG Networks completed a multi-year renewal of a distribution agreement with Verizon Fios.

Additionally, in mid-2021, LIV Golf hosted a company meeting where they reviewed an opportunity assessment that covered several topics in detail. This meeting covered some topics such as their ongoing efforts to collaborate with the PGA Tour, pledges to philanthropy, and even mentioned the prospect of hosting an event in Toronto! Most importantly, in my opinion, they discussed a proposed broadcast and distribution partnership with Verizon. This agreement would leverage Verizon’s network and technology to enhance the LIV Golf product by improving broadcast delivery and increasing spectator involvement on the course. Key points of this agreement included second-screen interaction, fan engagement, gaming, and instantaneous player and hole analytics.

Since the launch of LIV Golf in 2022, Verizon has been one of three partners that were integral in pioneering broadcast innovations like the aerial shot tracer, “LIV Line”, and others. The hiring of a COO deeply experienced in media contracts, coupled with the early LIV Golf plans to work with Verizon to integrate their technology and further push broadcast innovation lead us to the present.

Verizon’s 5G network’s unique capabilities, coupled with the distinct needs of sports broadcasting, create an ideal synergy for innovation in live sports broadcasts. The executives at Verizon recognize this opportunity to transform the live sports viewing experience and are eager to form sports broadcast and distribution agreements. Recently they cited an increase in the percentage of fans wanting multiple camera angles, to 33%, and nearly 70% of viewers acknowledging the positive impact of new technologies in their sports-watching experiences.  

There are examples of similar agreement recently, and others in the works.

ESPN is actively exploring equity partnerships with tech giants such as Apple, Microsoft, T-Mobile, and Verizon as they aim to enhance their broadcasts and widen their distribution networks. Traditional cable’s revenues have been steadily declining and ESPN is refocusing on direct-to-consumer offerings. Sports-centered companies are beginning to recognize that integrating these technological advancements in their broadcast and distribution is crucial for growth. A similar approach can be seen in the partnership between the MLS and Apple. This highlights a mutual interest where tech companies are eager to tap into the sports industry, and sports entities are keen to leverage technological and distribution advancements.

So where does this leave us now?

Let’s start with a prediction: Verizon will significantly expand their involvement in the LIV Golf broadcast in both innovation and distribution for the 2024 season. This will represent a significant milestone for LIV Golf as they will enter into a comprehensive broadcast, technology, and distribution agreement with a multi-billion dollar telecom giant. This agreement will prove to be symbiotic as LIV Golf seeks to push innovation and Verizon seeks to establish a foothold in sports broadcasts, illustrate the capabilities of 5G technologies, and establish themselves as pioneers in the space.

What kinds of things might this agreement bring to fans?

The sky’s the limit here, really. Verizon has talked about potential for augmented reality in sports which would be unbelievably cool. I expect that the short-term focus is to enrich the second screen experience and iterate on some of the broadcast innovations they played a key role in developing this season, such as the aerial shot tracer. The full integration of 5G technology opens the door to extensive real-time wagering opportunities, AI-driven shot predictions and analytics, and immediate highlight-reel creation and distribution. Personally, the most fascinating short-term prospect of this expanded agreement is the potential for both at-home and on-course viewers to create a “directors cut” broadcast in real-time, combining various feeds – main broadcast, drone footage, and individual player focus. Think something like this: the main broadcast, a drone view of a par 3 with live shot data, and a Cam Smith or Bryson cam, all on one screen.

With Will Staeger, David Hill and James Watson working on the broadcast, and an infusion of technology and distribution experience and opportunity from a multi-billion dollar telecommunication giant in Verizon, LIV Golf has set themselves up in a very good place for 2024. They already feature a technology infused broadcast and seek to lean into that more. An expansion on their already existing agreement with Verizon could accelerate this growth, setting the industry standard in sports broadcast innovation.