Is One Global Tour Endgame for PGA Tour and LIV?
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Is One Global Tour Endgame for PGA Tour and LIV?

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Is One Global Tour Endgame for PGA Tour and LIV?

Could 2024 be the year broken tees are mended? 

It’s starting to feel like it. 

Last June, the PGA Tour entered into a framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund that bankrolls LIV. There is no official partnership yet—and the initial Dec. 31 deadline has been pushed to April—but it feels likely the two sides will come together, especially after defending Masters champion Jon Rahm signed with LIV. 

Rahm’s signing was a firm indication that LIV will continue stockpiling players unless an agreement is reached. The PGA Tour remains vulnerable and likely needs the PIF to survive, but the PIF would also benefit greatly from joining forces. It would legitimize their struggling product and provide a seat at the table with the same corporate American businesses that consistently invest in the PGA Tour. 

After a lengthy soap opera that has left golf fans frustrated and then apathetic, olive branches are being extended and talk of a global tour—where the two leagues fold into one or somehow coexist peacefully—now is a topic of conversation.

Mickelson, McIlroy Give Reasons for Optimism

The symbolic faces of pro golf’s battle are saying it’s time for everyone to come together. 

Phil Mickelson, a driving force in LIV’s formation, is openly asking for a peace treaty. 

“It’s time for me and others to let go of our hostilities and work towards a positive future,” Mickelson tweeted this month. “Rahm’s signing is turning into a bridge to bring both sides together.”

Mickelson then went on the Pat McAfee Show this past week and again pleaded his case for the game accepting LIV. 

“Now people are realizing that LIV is not going away and we want to work together,” Mickelson said of the Rahm signing. “If you are the PGA Tour and you realize your most important asset is the quality of fields and the players, you are going to keep losing players if you don’t come together … this is a bridge that is now opening those conversations to start working together.” 

It was a distinct change of tone for Mickelson. He has been vindictive and irreverent the past two years, transforming from a folk hero into a social media-obsessed villain. Mickelson has been an agent of disruption—and some of his intentions to reimagine the pro golf ecosystem seem earnest and worthwhile—but his recklessness has besmirched his image in the process. 

So far, his upsetting of the apple cart has resulted in financial gain and chaos. The golf landscape Mickelson purportedly wanted to fix has never been more disrupted. 

The rainbow on the other side of the fairway could be a global tour, a coming together of the PGA Tour and LIV to create something that is better than the original PGA Tour when all the stars were in one stable but rarely played against each other. 

Maybe that is overly optimistic and impractical given how poorly golf’s stakeholders have fumbled the past few years, but the conversation is being had. Rory McIlroy, long the voice of the PGA Tour while commissioner Jay Monahan has hid in the shadows, is arguing for an international tour. 

“My dream scenario is a world tour, with the proviso that corporate America has to remain a big part of it all,” McIlroy told Golf Digest. “Saudi Arabia, too. That’s just basic economics. But there is an untapped commercial opportunity out there. Investors always want to make a return on their money. Revenues at the PGA Tour right now are about $2.3 billion. So how do we get that number up to four or six? To me, it is by looking outward. They need to think internationally and spread their wings a bit. I’ve been banging that drum for a while. 

“We could end up with something that resembles Formula One (motor racing) but with a little more of an American presence. Throw in the four majors and you have a brilliant schedule for the top 70-100 guys, whatever the number is. We’d have, say, a 22-event schedule. That would look pretty good to me.”

If you add in McIlroy’s comments about wanting to have Rahm on the European Ryder Cup team—something that would currently not be allowed—you have a growing acceptance that the PIF, and possibly LIV, is going to be part of the pro golf world moving forward. 

But what would a global tour mean? Is it even possible? 

The Argument for a Global Tour

On a philosophical level, one global professional golf tour makes sense. 

Considering pro golf is a niche entertainment offering, it is unreasonable to have two major tours. American TV ratings—which tend to dominate a sports league’s value—are relatively small in the golf world compared to most major sports. 

Last season, CBS averaged 2.2 million viewers over 42 PGA Tour telecasts. There are meaningless NFL games between non-playoff teams that see an audience three times that size. The 10th-most watched NFL game in Week 15 of this past regular season had 7.3 million. The 2023 MLB postseason averaged 4.4 million, which was down from previous years. The most recent NBA draft—not even a game—averaged nearly five million viewers. 

You get the point. About 70 percent of Americans watch live sports. Research across the industry shows golf’s TV ratings are a tier above the likes of MLS and the WNBA but they are clearly below the most popular major professional sports. 

And it is the PGA Tour that is almost entirely driving those ratings. In weeks that LIV events (which aired on the CW) ran up against tour events on CBS and NBC, the tour averaged some 1.89 million viewers. That is about nine times the viewership of LIV which averaged roughly 200,000. 

It’s an attention economy. Pro golf isn’t valuable enough to be so segmented. 

In a recent Golf.com report, it was noted that LIV’s total revenue for 2023 was around $100 million. The circuit spent nearly $1 billion last year. Without a meaningful TV contract or an entertaining product people want to watch, it will struggle to be profitable on its own accord. 

At the same time, LIV is backed by bottomless wallets. They can slowly decrease the PGA Tour’s value by poaching players and taking away eyeballs. They already have, and they could continue to do that if left unchecked. Just look at LIV’s upcoming schedule for this year which has several tournaments lined up to directly compete with the top PGA Tour events. That is a change from the previous philosophy where LIV scheduled against the weakest tour events. 

But in coming together, both sides could get what they want while reshaping the game in one fell swoop. 

The PGA Tour has almost exclusively been a U.S. product, rarely going international because corporate dollars would not support it. But with the PIF’s money invested into the tour, it could open a line for events to take place in Australia, South Africa, Japan and other areas of the world that are starved for pro golf. LIV has already gone to Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Spain and other countries the PGA Tour has rarely considered. 

Mickelson claims countries like Hong Kong and Singapore are willing to spend tens of millions out of their tourism budget just to attract LIV events. A market could exist. 

Investing in the professional game around the world is an untapped source of viewership and interest. Pro golf will always revolve around the U.S. to a certain extent but there are advantages to playing internationally. 

A more global product with, as McIlroy suggests, 22 or so events could allow the game’s best to get together more often without oversaturating the market, a problem golf has been mired in for decades. 

But for a Global Tour to Exist, Something Has to Give

There is a fundamental question in the potential PGA Tour-PIF partnership: Should LIV continue to exist? 

Most of the top golfers in the world play 20 to 25 events per year. The upper echelon of the PGA Tour will compete in eight signature events, the Players Championship and three FedEx Cup playoff events. Add in the four majors and the top tour players are in 16 events without entering any of the additional 18 full-field events or team competitions like the Ryder Cup. 

LIV players have a mandatory 14-event schedule and its elite echelon of players are also in the four majors. 

There are too many events for pros to bounce between both tours, and certainly too many events for a global tour where the best players show up for every event. That is on top of the other obvious problems, like LIV’s product being stuck in neutral. 

Something has to change. 

Assuming the PGA Tour and PIF come together, LIV is the more obvious choice to get axed. The PGA Tour has infrastructure, a long list of sponsors, a strong TV contract and the bulk of the game’s top players—so why would LIV replace the tour? 

It would seem more reasonable for the opposite to happen. What if LIV goes away but some of its key elements are integrated into the PGA Tour? 

For instance, what if the team concept is expanded and reshaped so the top 60 to 80 players in the world, regardless of tour, are split into different franchises. The bottom 10 players in the new version of the league could be relegated to the “minor leagues” where mid- to lower-tier PGA Tour players reside. Every year, the top 10 guys from the minors would be promoted. 

It would be a concept similar to Formula One: individual play within a team structure. The schedule accounts for international tournaments, the season starting in September and stretching back around to the following August with plenty of off weeks, including lengthy pauses, in between. The FedEx Cup transforms into the team playoffs. 

Or is it possible the PGA Tour and LIV survive independently but together, kind of like two conferences from the same league? The PGA Tour and LIV play some events together and some events separately, sharing resources. They each have their own team championships and then the winners from each league play each other in a “World Series of Golf” kind of event. 

Too much? Maybe you’re right. 

It is impossible to know how this will shake out. Any change has to be approved by the PGA Tour players—they will have a say in their future—but the tour is also not in position to call all the shots. 

There is hope, however, that the divide forms into a more reasonable, exciting pro golf calendar in the years to come. 

“If we can create a perfect golf calendar, what would it look like?” McIlroy said to Golf Digest. “I don’t think it would look like it looks right now.”

The one guarantee? Professional golf is set for some dramatic changes. 

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Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean is a longtime golf journalist and underachieving 8 handicap who enjoys the game in all forms. If he didn't have an official career writing about golf, Sean would spend most of his free time writing about it anyway. When he isn't playing golf, you can find Sean watching his beloved Florida Panthers hockey team, traveling to a national park or listening to music on his record player. He lives in Nashville with his wife and dog (of course the dog's name is Hogan).

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm

Sean Fairholm





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      elDubya

      3 months ago

      I’d be interested in where LIV got $100 million in 2023 revenue from. Couldn’t have been from the $2 tickets. What are their sources of revenue other than tickets, merch and concessions? Maybe they sold $100 million of Cleeks merch or, more likely, they just counted the leftover allowance from PIF as revenue..

      Reply

      NH Golfer

      3 months ago

      I’m sick of both sides. These rich crybabies need to get their act together and think of the fans for a change of pace.

      Reply

      CryptoDog

      3 months ago

      Yesssssssssssssss
      That is what the WORLD of GOLF needs!
      Just like the tennis one!
      We need a complete re-alignment of the golf tours around the world, dismantle the current majors set up to have massive majors with huge purses, with smaller local major opens in the 5 main golf territories (US, Europe, Australia, South Africa and Asia). Latin America needs to be resolved somehow, but can golf have 6 majors? Probably not, so call it “the Americas” and bounce it between the North and South.
      Either way, copy the tennis model, copy FIFA and its various continental conferences and have the majors re-align to those methods of competition. Then we can forget about counting the historical majors that Jack and Eldrick had, as those would be in the past, finally.
      LIV should have equal standing, and gain entry to all the majors as normal based on what the players win and accumulate.
      This would help with reprogramming the OWGR to truly reflect what happens globally.
      We have to move on, look forward to the future of the whole world of golf around the globe.

      Reply

      CryptoDog

      3 months ago

      And for those detractors who say that there is not enough time or enough rounds to determine who qualifies and what not –
      Well, currently, to qualify into any Open event, there is ONE round of pre-Q, and then a Monday Q. So for those who don’t have status, they have to play 2 rounds to get to a Tour event. For those who have some status that can skip the pre-Q, they just have to play the Monday one, and that’s only ONE ROUND to get to the 4-day event –

      so if we were to create qualifying rounds and even – ONE DAY MATCH PLAY events – where one player from one Tour play another player from another Tour in a one-day match-play event, if they have already got status and are fulfilling their minimum events quota etc – they could, create more one-day matches between players and one-day qualifying rounds to get into more events, for players who don’t have status, to quit making these elevated events, but make them all open qualifiable so that lower ranked and un-ranked players have a shot to get in, through prelim rounds, and be able to collect points and rankings based on who they beat and how they qualified.
      The possibilities are endless, the promotions/relegations should be done cleaner so that players either are in the top league or not for any season, etc.
      Way too much coddling and protection of players being elite. Sure if they win a major they are in for next year, but that’s all it should be, none of this life-term nonsense. They don’t do that in other sports, they have to still qualify and play from the beginning every season. So why can’t golf?

      Reply

      Vito

      3 months ago

      I’m an avid golfer. Play 80-100 times a year. My total watch time for golf in a year is probably less than 30 hours…and maybe 5 of those hours I’ve fallen asleep. Just not my thing to watch golf on a screen, so I don’t care what happens to pro golf.

      Reply

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