The LIV Golf Tour and the PGA Tour have brought the divisive nature of our society into the venerable game of golf. The tours could have co-existed amicably by taking players whose best years are behind them and provided them with a comfortable format and lifestyle that could have broadened interest in the game. The different formats that LIV is presenting with team golf could have been developed in a way that would have stoked fan interest. Instead of mutual cooperation and communication, LIV declared “war” on the PGA Tour using the power of money to lure as many top players on the PGA Tour into LIV by essentially buying them. The money is generated from the coffers of the Saudi Arabian investment arm funded essentially by the purchase of carbon based energy products that the entire world is consuming every day In addition the Saudi government has a checkered history of bad acting, little to no rights for women and a host of other political issues impacting their neighbors throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. Add the Genghis Khan of golf professionals in the likeness of Greg Norman and you have the ingredients of a full blown conflict. The last few months have fueled a torrent of vitriol from both sides that makes professional golf look like a soap opera. It’s real unclear to me as to what Saudi Arabia is trying to accomplish as LIV merely trumpets the reputation that they already have and I don’t believe any amount of professional golf domination is going to change that image. There is no doubt that LIV threatens the PGA Tour and the Tour will have to respond with changes but they cannot match the limitless coffers of the Saudi treasury. Therefore I believe that the future of LIV will be tied to two significant factors. The first and most dominant will be whether LIV will be able to secure major television rights to display the product on national television. To date, LIV is generally ignored on major sports networks and coverage is limited to streaming services whereby people have to be technically savvy enough to want to watch the events The second major factor to be determined is whether the four major championships are going to allow LIV players to compete in those championships including those players who are former champions in those major events. The remainder of this piece will be focused on the media potential of LIV.
I believe that LIV Golf will find a TV partner with Fox Sports. Apple TV has spurned LIV golf as “toxic.” Politics aside, it seems that Fox embraces what might be viewed as divisiveness in one quarter and second opportunity in another. Fox’s ascension as a national media brand really took off when the broadcaster secured the rights to televise the National Football League as a another alternative to the big three (ABC (ESPN), CBS, NBC) and became very successful and competent as a national broadcaster. The NFL is the most popular spectator sport in the United States but professional golf is not. Fox tried to break into the world of professional golf years ago when it cut a deal with the USGA to broadcast all of its major championships. I found watching professional golf on Fox to be exceedingly painful to the point of having to mute the untrained musings of Greg Norman coupled with a confused Paul Azinger and Brad Faxon. Azinger’s current success with NBC indicates that Fox’s problem had more to do with their approach to the golf broadcast rather than the commentators themselves. Joe Buck for all his popularity in football simply could not convert his skills to golf and he actually painfully acknowledged this in recent events. Having scantily clad Holly Sanders wax insipidly at the players who spent their time ogling her instead of being interviewed didn’t add anything to the broadcast other than another feature of how Fox presents things. Will Golf fans watch LIV on Fox? I would venture to say “yes” but I won’t be one of the them. If Fox doesn’t learn from it’s horrific presentation of USGA, which bordered on embarrassment, the ratings won’t be sufficient to challenge the musings of Jim Nantz and Dan Hicks. LIV also lured away the entertaining rumblings of David Feherty as he could be a positive wildcard as a Fox broadcaster.
LIV could be successful with a softer approach that emphasizes the game and starts to publicize the different types of team games that they are promoting. Today, no one understands what any of it means and there is so much money involved that it sounds like a celebrity quiz show game where the audience hardly understands what is going on. Team Golf is not a concept that is well understood. Golf fans, for the most part, don’t even understand or support the PGA Tour Championship handicap system and qualification methodology
LIV could buy the LPGA Tour in a heartbeat probably for a fraction of what it is paying some PGA players to defect. It’s highly unlikely that LIV could make such a gesture given that women in Saudi Arabia have limited rights and some may argue are viewed as necessary evils in the kingdom. The LPGA has a good product and their game is something male amateur golfers can better relate to than the 190mph swing speeds of their male counterparts.
LIV faces the risk of the development of the PGA Tour Player and the absence of recognition by the LIV Tour. Today the PGA Tour is developing the players that the LIV Tour is trying to procure. The PGA Tour is likely to develop additional young players from the Korn Ferry Tour and USGA collegiate infrastructure that might dim the lights of the top players that the LIV Tour has plucked from the PGA Tour roster. Of course, I suspect that LIV will continue to try to purchase the players that the PGA Tour has developed through the Korn Ferry Tour.
LIV could also benefit by copying the PGA Tour format by making major contributions to the charities in the venues where they play. Courting venues such as Trump properties all over the US won’t get the job done to embrace the communities where these events are held. It seems to add to the political divisiveness of the US at large-having protesters showing up at your golf events is not a way to attract loyalty and sponsorship for the tour.
No one knows where all of this is going to end up but the game of golf will persevere above the fray. I don’t believe the LIV on Fox is going to be a winner but the viewing public and the corporate sponsors that buy the advertising will decide with their pocketbooks on how the world of professional golf is perceived. The good news is that golf is a sport for all of us to participate at whatever skill level we have and will persevere. The professional golf world will always exist irrespective of what happens to these competing tours and our views about them. It’s a shame that divisiveness has come to the world of golf in almost the same way as our political spectrum.