Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Life Expectancy of LIV Golf

Most of the discussion about LIV golf centers around the main sponsor (the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund) and the ability and character of those players it has recruited.  Few if any have examined the long-term viability this new organization.  The life expectancy of LIV golf will depend upon the staying power of the Saudis.  That staying power will be determined by how well LIV golf contributes to the Saudis’ objectives. 

And just what are those objectives?   LIV golf may be an attempt to clean-up the image of the Saudi government (sportswashing).  Giving millions to existing millionaires is hardly the altruistic gesture that will change perceptions.  Add to that, at every stop players will be asked about Jamal Khashoggi and other human rights abuses.  Each LIV tournament becomes a public relations nightmare.   If it is a better image the Saudis wanted, LIV golf simply cannot deliver.

Another objective for the Sovereign Wealth Fund would be to make money.  Will LIV yield a return on investment?  It seems unlikely.  Major television networks will not risk their relationship with the PGA Tour to air LIV tournaments.  There may be a minor network willing to carry the tournaments, but the rights fee would not be large.  Sponsors will also avoid LIV like the plague.  Even “My Pillow” will pass.  Who wants to be associated with the Saudis when even LIV’s major ambassador calls them “scary motherf…”   

A recent advertisement (June 24, 2022) in the Wall Street Journal cited other objectives such as “to energize the game, create new opportunities, (provide) teams to root for, and we believe golf is a force for good.”  Let’s examine this puffery:

Energize the game – Shotgun starts and limited fields will make play faster but not necessarily energize the game.  The winner will no longer be guaranteed to finish on the 18th green.  The excitement of a car crash or superlative play on the 18th hole is lost.  Fans will ultimately decide if a shotgun start energizes the game.  It seems unlikely they will.  Golf fans could perceive LIV events as mere exhibitions and not worth the time and money.  If initial LIV events are not well attended, it could be the beginning of a death spiral. 

Create new opportunities – There is an element of truth to this claim.  As players leave to join LIV, more players will have a chance to be in the field at PGA Tour events.  In essence, LIV is giving its players an early retirement buyout so younger players have a chance to succeed.  It is doubtful this is what LIV planned. It just worked out this way.

(Provide) teams to root for - I might root for a team from my home city, but it is unlikely.  Will I have an allegiance to a 4-man team chosen by Graeme McDowell even if they are wearing the same-colored shirts.  This is more doubtful.  Did LIV organizers learn nothing from the failure of Team Tennis.  Introducing two simultaneous competition creates other problems.  Suppose a player should lay-up to ensure a team victory but needs to make a heroic shot for an individual victory.  What does he do?

We believe golf is a force for good – The advertisement implies the Saudi objective is to make the world a better place by an investment in a golf tour.  How LIV golf will contribute to the well-being of the nations of the world is not detailed.   

It is not unreasonable to assume Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will tire of losing money and being hammered by his critics.  How soon will he pull the plug?  A life expectancy of two years sounds like a good bet.  The Crown Prince will then start looking for scapegoats who got him involved in this mess.  Note to Greg Norman:  If you get an invitation to a Saudi embassy, don’t go.