LIV Golf risks becoming irrelevant in the growing Saudi sportswashing portfolio | LIV Golf Series
IIt’s telling that the discussion surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to the Saudi league focuses on the player’s inexorable slide into football oblivion. Ronaldo was unveiled after a year in which at least 147 people were executed in Saudi Arabia, according to the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights. Ronaldo’s 526 million Instagram followers and 106 million Twitter followers will now receive updates from Al Nassr as football obsessives debate his decline on the pitch. The Saudis have bought one of the game’s iconic figures which means goals and assists barely count. Neither is the source of Ronaldo’s weekly salary. Sportswashing works.
Newcastle United’s charge into the upper echelons of the Premier League and the hero worship bestowed on Eddie Howe as a direct result will be seen in the Kingdom as another achievement. The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is standardized. If Tyson Fury fights Oleksandr Usyk in Saudi Arabia in March, the boxing world will shrug its shoulders.
Golf quickly became the Saudi sports exception. Everyone involved in LIV, which has already been backed to the tune of $2 billion by the Public Investment Fund, speaks with absolute certainty of a prosperous future, but this entity enters 2023 with questions and doubts swirling. . The answer, if there is to be one, from Greg Norman and his pals will prove fascinating. LIV suddenly needs a boost. During this window where mainstream golf essentially shut down, LIV was unable to gain momentum.
In late October, LIV CEO and Chairman Atul Khosla calmly addressed reporters gathered in Doral. Khosla recognized LIV’s need for a broadcast deal. He said a 2023 calendar would appear by the end of the following month. Khosla said teams would be set for this calendar year by the end of 2022.
Shortly before Christmas, it was announced that Khosla – for many the acceptable face of LIV – had left the organization after just one year. “We respect AK and his personal decision,” Norman said. Sean Bratches lasted six months as commercial director before leaving last May. LIV’s inability to retain experienced, externally hired sports executives is intriguing.
Much of the void is being filled by Performance54, a sports marketing group which Companies House says has three Saudis on its board, including Majed al-Sorour – also Newcastle manager and longtime leader of the operation Saudi golf course. Khosla, meanwhile, is due to appear as a witness when the case between the LIV members and the European Tour Group goes to sports arbitration in February. There’s no indication that Khosla, who is due to defend the LIV players, won’t testify, but his attitude will be interesting given the sudden and so far opaque nature of his exit from the rebel circuit.
There are no TV deals left for LIV in the US or UK. A full schedule for this year has yet to be released, with only seven tournaments listed on LIV’s website. The rumored signings – Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele were the most high profile – opted to stay on the PGA Tour. If the PIF is content to award Pat Perez and Peter Uilhein millions of dollars, that’s fine, but if not, they’ll have to throw in even more exorbitant sums to coax big-name golfers into LIV. With every such deal, the potential return on investment is impacted. And contrary to popular belief, ROI objectives exist.
In LIV’s defense, he can argue that the arrival of Cameron Smith, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson to their ranks was a victory against the golf establishment, but the drain of talent from the PGA Tour then came to a halt. If LIV stays with the cast list that currently exists and without a streaming platform, it may not be relevant. 2022’s LIV story was compelling because of the “will, won’t” narrative of players being tempted by their blank checks. Without such a narrative in 2023, will anyone care?
LIV ended its 2022 campaign without the implementation of an anti-doping program, which is curious for an entity with so many years and so many dollars in preparation. Insiders insist that will change this year. Not being recognized by official world rankings suits LIV in a way, given that it can portray the closing of the ranks by golf’s crusty status quo. Yet this has a negative impact on golfers. Paul Casey, something of a national Augusta specialist, is ineligible for the Masters after slipping outside the top 50 in the world. Only seven LIV members qualified for Augusta through a top 50 finish, and of those, the average ranking was 40. It’s quite possible there won’t be any LIV golfers at the Olympics in Paris in 2024. Litigation, including in US federal court, is ongoing.
A coalition of families and survivors of the 9/11 atrocities said they would be protesting outside the gates of Augusta National over LIV golfers’ involvement in the April Masters. The tournament keepers aren’t going to like this.
Perhaps complaints about human rights abuses spill over to the Saudi sports wing, just as it apparently does to the golfers it employs on such lucrative terms. At some point, you have to assume that all the heat, hassle, and expense are worth it. LIV used 2022 to disrupt golf and change the complexion of the sport forever. Nothing that happened this off-season suggests that Saudi Arabia’s banter on the fairways will prove as fruitful as elsewhere. As long as this risk persists, golfers inside the LIV bubble face an uncertain future.