By: Riley Day
November 27, 2023
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Since Lauren Cuppy’s SBAJ Volume III Issue I article was published in September of 2023, a lot has happened in the world of golf. As a reminder, an official merger between PGA and LIV, by far the two largest professional golf organizations in the world, was signed in June of 2023, much to the surprise of the golf community. Up until that deal was made, the two leagues were at each other’s throats in direct competition with one another. The Saudi-backed LIV used their immense financial resources to poach notable PGA Tour players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and Bryson DeChambeau. Through this process, LIV promised to redefine the image of golf to appease the modern fan, emphasizing entertainment and advanced technology rather than the historical significance of individual tournaments and accolades.
Private Equity and New Investors
According to Golfweek.com, five potential private equity firms are bidding to be the primary investment partner in PGA Tour Enterprises. Fenway Sports Group (FSG), in partnership with American billionaires Steve Cohen and Arthur Blank, headlines the group of firms. FSG is firmly established in the sports business industry, owning the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool F.C., and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Cohen owns the New York Mets and Arthur Blank owns the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United of the MLS. Further, FSG recently made waves in the world of golf by pledging a significant investment in Boston Common, a new team in “Tomorrow’s Golf League (TGL),” captained by golf superstars Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.
The other private equity firms in the mix include Liberty Strategic Capital, Acorn Growth Companies, Eldridge Industries, and a mysterious fifth group named in the article only as “Friends of Golf.” Influential sports and entertainment firm Endeavor also publicly announced their interest, but its bid was surprisingly rejected. According to Sportico.com, the PGA Tour was “unwilling to meet the financial terms Endeavor had set out as conditions for the deal,” including an annual $25 million service fee. “They have a lot of suitors,” Endeavor CEO Mark Shapiro explained, “a lot of bidders, a lot of attractive offers, and they declined ours.”
According to the framework of the new agreement signed by PGA and LIV, all for-profit assets collected by either party moving forward will be combined into “a new subsidiary called NewCo,” reports Sportcal.com. The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF)–a fancy pseudonym for the billions of dollars set aside by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be used in sport-related business activities–owns 93% of LIV Golf and is expected to make a minority investment into NewCo to capitalize on the future returns of their massive investment in the sport of golf. The new entity will serve as an umbrella for all future golf-related investments, mergers, and acquisitions with the goal of globalizing the sport. The merger was set to be finalized by the end of 2023, but Sportspro Media reports that it is being delayed due to an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into potential violation of antitrust law.
Lauren’s article summarized the merger as “golf evolving into a more creative space.” The merger also provides an opportunity to increase the world’s accessibility to a sport that has long been reserved for the elites of Western society. LIV Golf is attempting to break the unwritten rules and long standing traditions of golf, most notably by allowing players to wear shorts and blast music during rounds.
Moving forward, expect slow but steady progress on the official PGA Tour and LIV Golf merger. Once a deal is done, expect the sport to be propelled into a future characterized by both players and fans alike having many of their interests met.