Merger of LIV and Saudi tour in the Gulf: Doomed to fail – Sport

There was relief among players on the PGA Tour when one of the innovations for the coming season was decided on November 10th. Golf professionals are an inherently demanding group of people; especially since Saudi Arabia has been using banknotes on a large scale for a year and a half now to ensure that a latent feeling of financial power has developed among the best golfers in the world. The demands for “more” in all categories are now correspondingly loud – including toilets.

So the PGA Tour has kept its promise and, starting in January, will require tournament organizers to set up at least four portable plastic toilets per nine holes. She is responding to complaints like those from world number two Jon Rahm, who said in the summer that golfers don’t always just want money and power, but rather “a damn toilet on every damn hole.”

Well then: Now that this problem has been resolved: Everyone happy? Not even close.

There was a brief moment in the middle of the year when everyone involved in golf had reason to hope that peace could return to a sport that was considerably divided. Surprisingly, the leaders of the two sides – Jay Monahan, commissioner of the PGA Tour, and Yasir Al-Rumayyan, chairman of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund PIF – sat opposite each other on American television. They told the world how they found each other and why they would settle their expensive disputes in US courts.

In fact, the legal proceedings were abandoned in no time. A much-needed step, especially for the PGA Tour, which was threatening to bleed out in court. But that was only part of the vision of the future presented by Monahan and Al-Rumayyan.

Open detailed view

Jon Rahm recently eloquently called for better facilities in golf: He wants proper toilets – by no means the biggest problem in his profession.

(Foto: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

The statement was made in a document at the time that the US tour, the European tour and the Saudi-funded LIV tour were planning a joint venture that could now bring all relevant golf tournaments under one roof. Those responsible expressed big goals that day in June: the financial strength of the Saudis should merge with the profile of the traditional US golf world, and the quarreling players on both tours should get along. And all wishes should come true anyway, right down to the toilets in the squares.

There has probably never been such a sell-out of a sport before. In any case, many believed the promise. Even the players, who are actually the decisive people in sport, know little about what goes on at the top.

Both sides are initially planning their own tournament series for 2024

Because now, in November 2023, there is very little to suggest that the promised meeting will actually work between the tours that had promised to present a detailed contract by December 31st. This deadline will soon be postponed, according to US sources. In fact, the whole deal was suddenly in question; The Athletic magazine called it “dead or dying” in a research study.

Accordingly, he apparently fails – as initially expected – not because of details such as tournament schedules and television contracts, but because of the major global political guidelines, the traces of which extend to the White House and the royal palace in Riyadh.

On the US side, members of Congress are continuing to investigate what the consequences would be if the Saudi sovereign wealth fund became the majority owner of an important American sports institution. Among other things, it is about the fact that the merger would mean that the PGA Tour would give up its status as a tax-free non-profit company and would then possibly be vulnerable to antitrust law as a monopoly. There is great resentment of the merger in Washington, according to several recent reports.

It is based on open questions among members of the Democratic Party – because of the close ties between Saudis and the Republican Donald Trump: The former president and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have been accused for years of having political influence for private loans from Saudi Arabia during Trump’s term in office Taking advantage of Kushner’s family.

The so-called “Sheikdown” occurred in November 2017, but Trump’s sympathies for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf investment are more urgent than ever in light of the US elections next year: tournaments were held on three Trump golf courses this year The LIV tour takes place, and the former president likes to be there himself. He uses the events for election campaigns, for rounds of golf with professionals – and with Al-Rumayyan, the right-hand man of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

He, in turn, caused a stir in an interview with Fox News at the end of September – and interest among the investigating MPs – when he admitted that a deal would create a monopoly: “We will no longer have competition,” said Bin Salman and announced with a smile: “If sportswashing makes our gross domestic product grow by one percent, then we’ll keep doing sportswashing.”

This apparently aroused interest on the American side in finding other investors. Negotiations about the entry of one of the most influential sports agencies in the world, the Endeavor group, which, among other things, owns the wrestling series WWE, failed at the end of October. According to Endeavor chairman Mark Shapiro, the PGA Tour ended the talks – it is unclear whether the Saudis intervened in the background. According to the agreement, they have the right to object to any other investor.

And then the global political situation came into play: Since Hamas’s terrorist attack against Israel on October 7th, the question of what will happen next between the USA and Saudi Arabia has finally gone beyond politics. The LIV tour is also affected, according to a report in the New York Post. Many deals and negotiations between the Middle East and West in various sectors of the economy have been put on hold for the time being, including sport: An indication of what could happen to golf is the failed efforts of a Qatari investor group to acquire shares in the Manchester United football club. The Jewish Glazer family as majority owners recently preferred a British investor.

In this light, it is currently difficult to see how a fruitful cooperation between the PGA Tour and the sovereign wealth fund PIF can come about. The interests have not changed: the Americans need funding, the Saudis want influence in the US elite – but the circumstances could be the wrong ones for such a historic merger.

For 2024, each side is planning its own tournament series: The LIV Tour has now published its schedule and announced that it wants to continue poaching players from the PGA Tour. The professionals there first have to deal with the little things that make golfing life easier.


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