Dustin Johnson (left) and Rory McIlroy have settled into opposite camps of professional golf.Getty Images (2)

After an acrimonious summer defined by a constant flurry of broadsides and fierce debates over the merits of eight-figure contracts, things are suddenly looking up for both fighters in the battle for the future of golf.

In one corner, LIV Golf, the insurgent tour funded by a deep Saudi war chest, spent the middle of its eight-event inaugural season with an impressive stable of golfers who defected from the PGA Tour, including the potential new face of LIV in Cameron Smith, world number 2. Coming off his fourth event, which ended with Dustin Johnson’s spectacular 35-foot eagle putt in a sudden-death playoff outside Boston, executives believe the national narrative surrounding LIV is changing, focusing less on the source of its money and more on the product in progress.

On the other hand, the PGA Tour, seen as a long-standing, even static organization, has enacted sweeping changes in hopes of enticing golfers to stay: It has raised 12 events to boost purses to an average $20 million each; additional commitments for the best players to participate in at least 20 events; and bolstered its Player Impact program, which financially rewards golfers based on their popularity. A core group of marquee players, led by Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, expressed their solidarity, pledging as a united front, at least for now, for the future growth of the organization.

As the industry’s most disruptive year heads into the fall, expect both sides to dig in, hold their ground, and coexist on parallel paths in the near term, even as both possess cultures and very different structures. Neither side flinches, with PGA Tour stalwart Jordan Spieth recently saying the tour “has a lot of momentum right now” and LIV’s Smith refuting that his new tour is “the future of golf. “.

While the long-term picture of the golf industry remains uncertain, here are four fundamental questions that will help shape the contours of the sport in the years to come:

Will the significant changes give the momentum of the PGA Tour?

In his The Strongest Further rebuttal to the threat of the LIV Tour, the PGA Tour is dramatically increasing golfer compensation next year and instituting a guaranteed minimum against earnings for all exempt players.

Additionally, notable changes have been made to the Player Impact Program, launched last year to financially reward the most popular players. The number of paid players will double to 20 with the PIP fund. The amount paid will also double, from $50 million to $100 million. The formula will adjust to include “notoriety criteria”, which take into account media mentions and broadcast exposure. The top finisher in the PIP will receive $15 million.

The tour also launches the Revenue Assurance Program, which guarantees a league minimum wage of $500,000 per fully exempt member who attends at least 15 events.

Here are some numbers that LIV plans to share with potential broadcast partners.


27

Twenty-seven networks carry LIV Golf around the world. The audience on its digital channels, either LIVgolf.com or YouTube, resides almost entirely (85%) in the UK or the US

nearly 2 million

Global Views on LIVgolf.com and YouTube for Sunday’s Final Round (September 4) (Live, On Demand and Extended Highlights)

About 1.2 million

Unique viewers

53%

Fifty-three percent of viewers of LIV, on digital channels, are under 45 years old.

Source: LIV Golf

Additionally, the high-profile reunion of PGA Tour players – in an effort to prevent further defections – last month before the BMW Championship in Delaware allowed players to breathe unity. LIV executives said their circuit — which boasts 12 of the top 50 golfers, including 12 big winners — has finished adding players this year, though they are keeping that door open. When LIV opens that door further, dangling lucrative eight-figure deals, it will test golfers’ loyalty to the PGA Tour. But at this point, as four-time Major winner McIlroy said, “All the top players on this tour are in agreement and aligned on where we’re headed.”

When will LIV secure a US TV contract?

LIV is still waiting to secure the one thing he knows will be the breakthrough to elevate his circuit: a deal with American television. Will Staeger, LIV’s media director, told SBJ last week that “we’re very confident that we’ll have a great TV partner in the United States for our 2023 season. Frankly, we’re on schedule to move into commitments.” more active with interested broadcast, cable and streaming networks for our first rights cycle beginning in 23.”

A deal does not necessarily involve a traditional linear television partner. The PGA Tour has a lucrative media rights deal with CBS, ESPN and NBC, totaling $7 billion over nine years. Warner Bros. Discovery, owner of Turner Sports, holds a host of PGA Tour rights internationally. These networks are unlikely to seek to air LIV given these longstanding relationships.

LIV executives will engage in discussions with potential partners over the coming months. “We’ve had conversations throughout the past year with each network,” Staeger said.

Fox Sports remains a possibility. After all, former Fox Sports president David Hill is now a production consultant for LIV, and LIV CEO Greg Norman has a long relationship with fellow Aussie Rupert Murdoch. However, Fox has had no meaningful discussions with LIV about reaching a deal, sources said.

Staeger hopes for a cross-platform distribution approach inspired by the NBA and NFL, adding that “we see an opportunity for a traditional platform for live event coverage, but also to try unique angles to reach the next generation. of viewers, which is often digital, often on-demand.”

Some doubt the potential of LIV’s media rights. Veteran PGA Tour golfer Davis Love III told SBJ that “CBS, NBC, Golf Channel, now ESPN with streaming and ABC, these are our partners, and I just don’t see them going in a different direction. … Who knows in the future what will happen. But there is not a huge demand for [LIV]. It’s an exhibition.”

Johnson’s dramatic victory earlier this month helped LIV address some critics who say he is just putting on exhibitions instead of real competitions.Images: getty

Can LIV shake the stigma of exposure?

When Johnson hit the long putt to win LIV Boston, it sparked a jubilant celebration. The scene had all the trappings of the climax of tense athletic competition rather than mere exhibitionism, a stigma LIV has faced since its inception.

With an uncut 54-hole structure – and with players receiving so much money upfront – the perception has been that LIV events are long on show, short on substance. The mantra of “Golf, but louder” certainly held true in Boston: rock music was blaring – including a steady regimen of AC/DC and Twisted Sister – Norman parachuted onto the course on Friday and players wore shorts .

LIV executives say they aim to super serve the grassroots golf fan and the new or casual consumer of sports and entertainment. It’s about striking a balance between evolving the presentation of the sport and respecting the history of the sport’s well-honored traditions.

Hill’s presence should not be overlooked. A generation ago, he led a group of ambitious executives at a bold and brash network — Fox Sports — to revolutionize the way MLB’s usually conservative sport was broadcast. What was considered loud and bold in the mid-1990s is now considered a hedge of garden varieties. Now Hill, who friends say is a “mad genius”, has a new canvas.

Where is the antitrust lawsuit going?

Legal experts say the amended federal antitrust lawsuit filed last month in U.S. District Court in Northern California promises to be a years-long legal battle. LIV Golf and the seven golfers who filed the complaint say the PGA Tour illegally banned golfers and used monopoly power to stifle competition.

At this early stage, two antitrust lawyers argue that LIV and her golfers face a difficult climb.

One said any suggestion that LIV golfers suffered serious financial harm by being banned from the PGA Tour is a tough argument to make, especially with LIV acknowledging that he was essentially overpaying golfers. to defect. “When you’re playing an antitrust lawsuit, you want the plaintiff to be the saddest bag in the world, to go broke, to toast,” said Craig Seebald, antitrust attorney at Vinson & Elkins. “But here the allegation is quite the opposite: we had to overpay because of these restrictions.”

Second, Seebald said, the very existence and success of LIV, which is growing by attracting more top golfers to its stable and already announcing an expanded schedule (14 events) next year, establishes direct competition. with the circuit, which he said undermines LIV’s claim. “If I’m the PGA Tour, I say, ‘Monopolization has the power to exclude, and if I have that power, I’m doing a really shitty job of excluding them,'” Seebald said. “There’s this tension, the more successful the LIV tour is, I think it really undermines the monopolization claims.”

K. Craig Wildfang, a partner at Robins Kaplan LLP who worked in the Justice Department’s antitrust division during the Clinton administration, echoed that the plaintiffs had a “tough case.” He doesn’t think the result is a slam dunk, but said: “Basically what [LIV Golf] is doing, are they coming in and dumping tons of money on these golfers to get them to take the fame and reputation that they’ve built through the PGA [Tour] and use it for someone else’s benefit. …The PGA [Tour] What I think at this point is a reasonable defense that they invested billions of dollars to build this tour and the players benefited. And now they just want to go make more money somewhere else. I think the PGA [Tour] there’s a reasonable argument there.”