TGL presented by SoFi, the made-for-primetime TV golf competition founded by PGA Tour legends Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and former NBC Sports executive Mike McCarley, officially has a U.S. TV home.
ESPN has secured the media rights for TGL, and will debut the league on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024, the day after the College Football Playoff National Championship. The second match will run on Tuesday Jan. 16, the night after ESPN’s Monday Night Football NFL Wild Card game, giving both matches a football-driven promotional boost.
There will be 15 regular season matches, plus semifinals and finals matches.
All the matches will run on ESPN or ESPN2, and will also be simulcast on ESPN+. ABC will also air a TGL preview show on Saturday, Dec. 30. TMRW Sports and ESPN say that it is a “multi-year partnership.”
“We think TGL is a well-aligned partner … from the time I was first connected with Mike I was impressed by their vision,” says Rosalyn Durant, executive vp of programming and acquisitions for ESPN, in an interview with The Music news. “This is a fresh take on a familiar sport, you have the names, you have the foundation to draw all those existing fans, but then you have the innovation at the technology, the fan engagement to entice new fans.”
McCarley added that ESPN was “the ideal place and people to do this with.”
“It’s going to fit with the rest of their programming and there’s going to be a natural tendency for the fans who are already there to watch this and, and keep coming back each week,” he added, noting that launching it after the NFL regular season was over and the end of college football season was a strategic decision. “You’ve got an opening from a national sports standpoint in kind of those early week windows… [for] most sports fans its too cold to go outside or they’re snowed in and providing them you know, a view and a sport that’s going to look a little bit different but it’s going to be familiar because of the players who are playing.”
Woods, McIlroy and McCarley launched TMRW Sports last year, with TGL being their first project. Investors in TMRW Sports include former NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, executives like Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin and Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei, athletes like NBA star Steph Curry, F1 racer Lewis Hamilton and NFL quarterback Josh Allen, and entertainers like Justin Timberlake and Justin Bieber.
The company has since sold regional TGL teams to the likes of New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, who will own the New York team; Fenway Sports Group, which controls the Boston team; Arthur Blank, who owns the Atlanta team; and Alexis Ohanian and Serena and Venus Williams, who own the Los Angeles team. There will ultimately be six teams in the TGL.
The teams will consist of current PGA Tour players, with Woods, McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Rose, Adam Scott, Xander Schauffele, Max Homa, Rickie Fowler, and Billy Horschel all committed to participate. TGL said at the outset that it intended to work with existing PGA Tour partners as it pursued media deals.
Woods, of course, is known for being ratings gold when it comes to live golf coverage.
“Look at the partners he’s brought on board from Tiger and Rory, look at the investors that are connected to this business, look at the team owners there. It may be a new business concept, but these aren’t people new to business and new to the profession and to the sport of golf,” Durant said. “So we have we have full confidence in what they’re doing. We have full confidence in how it’s going to be presented. We have confidence in the names and the reach of audience that they’re going to bring on board.”
“We’re confident that we’ll be able to bring their expertise in the game and the sport with our megaphone that is the ESPN brand, using our reach and the fandom that comes with ESPN to help bring in and expand their audience,” she adds.
The matches will take place at a newly-constructed high-tech venue, the SoFi Center in Palm Beach, Florida. Players will all be wearing microphones, with live fans in the arena to watch and cheer them on in the two-hour matches.
“From a sports fan’s standpoint, this is like sitting courtside at an NBA game,” McCarley says. “And for the fan at home, it’s also that NBA courtside experience, it’s lights, it’s music, it’s player introductions. All the players will be miked up so that conversation, that kind of running conversation throughout the competition will be an important piece of it.”
ESPN already televises a number of golf events, televising the first two rounds of The Masters as well as the PGA Championship, and PGA Tour Live content on ESPN+.
CAA’s merchant bank Evolution Media Capital (EMC) advised TMRW Sports on TGL’s domestic agreement with ESPN, and is also advising TGL on its international media rights distribution.