In the United States, "Professional Golf" and "PGA Tour" have become synonymous. The PGA Tour is the sport's premier organization and has seen massive success over the years. However, on June 9th, golf was introduced to an entirely new tour, The LIV. The LIV is a Saudi Arabian-backed professional golf tour that presents the first real challenge to the PGA Tour in a long time. Tracking narratives in U.S. Media gives a good picture of what the new league is about and what stories are shaping perceptions of the LIV Golf series.
Thanks for reading EdgeTheory Narrative Intelligence! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
A Monopoly on Golf
The PGA tour is full of great competition. From a Jack Nicklaus Master’s comeback in ‘86 to countless playoff duels, any given weekend on The Tour is up for grabs. But when it comes to competing with other golf organizations, it’s a different story. The PGA has not faced a competitor in the professional golf world in decades. Even though it used to fight with the likes of The European Tour, among others, for player privileges, this tour has since dissolved into a “strategic partnership” with the PGA Tour, undermining any real competition.
Unlike former PGA Tour competitors, the LIV is not looking for such a partnership. Professional golf's latest tour is shaking up the game as nothing has in a long time. Coming in with 604 unique narratives from 176 different sources in the last two weeks, the LIV is a hot topic in U.S. Media. From its huge payouts to its Saudi-backing, the tour is as controversial as the gentleman's sport gets.
One of the most noticeable differences with the LIV is the pure volume of money going into the tour. Each LIV tour event pays a whopping $25 million purse. This payout is more than every single event on the PGA Tour, with the highest PGA major purse set at $17.5 million for the U.S. Open. It isn't just the amount of money that is cause for concern, though; it is the structure of payment that has raised eyebrows. Instead of getting paid purely off on-course performance, the LIV pays players based on "age, star power, current form, and projected performance." These factors lead to a league that is changing the game significantly, attracting some of the game's most prominent talent. Golfers have received massive paychecks just for defecting to the tour in the first place. Some of the biggest deals are being covered extensively, as reflected by media mentions.
Some of the most notable players include:
The money itself hasn’t been the only cause for concern but rather the government from which the money is coming. The funding for the golf tournament comes from Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund. This fund was made with the purpose of creating an investment that is “strategically significant” to Saudi Arabia’s economic development. This fund has total estimated assets of $620 billion, the 6th largest such fund in the world. This financial backing is one of the biggest concerns in U.S. Media as “Saudi Arabia” garners 363 mentions from 54 different sources covering the LIV. At the center of this concern is Saudi Arabia’s issues with human rights.
Human rights have been mentioned 165 times in the past two weeks in association with the LIV. Some of the most notable issues include a "high execution rate, legal discrimination against women, and the infamous murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018." These issues have raised huge questions on the ethicality of signing on with the tour and taking what critics call “blood money”.
LIV Golfer Phil Mickelson has acknowledged these issues, saying that he does not condone the country's actions and that the Saudi government is "scary”. This was not enough to settle the public, however. Mickelson received such strong backlash following these comments that he ultimately decided to take several months away from golf. Some LIV golfers such as Graeme McDowell have echoed this sentiment, saying that "We're not politicians, we're professional golfers." Other players, however, have made it very clear that they are not fans of the new tour.
The PGA Tour Faithful
While the new league has caught the attention of some of the most talented golfers, some of the greats have not minced words about the Tour. Tiger Woods, For example. After remaining relatively quiet about the subject, Tiger Woods finally commented about the tour last Tuesday. Woods said that PGA turned LIV golfers "turned their back on what has allowed them to get to this position." Woods went on to talk about the lack of incentive guaranteed money gives the players to "earn it in the dirt." Rory Mcllroy came at the LIV with similar criticism, saying that there is “no room” for LIV in the world of golf.
The players have taken center stage as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have received over 700 unique media mentions combined. Narrative Intelligence makes it clear just how central golf’s big names are to the conversation.
Killing the competition
Despite all of the conflicts surrounding the tour, it is clear that the PGA’s actions toward players have been a response that has caught the attention of the U.S. Government. On July 11th, one of the top 5 keywords surrounding the Tournament in U.S. Media was "Justice Department." In order to limit the benefits that players can hold onto PGA has not quite been accommodating regarding world rankings points. These rankings are the Justice Department's primary inquiry as the golf giant, but many other questions have been raised about the PGA’s potential anticompetitive behavior.
The LIV Golf series has brought controversy to the sport of golf as nothing has in a long time. U.S. Media has covered the topic extensively, focusing on the big names, the money, and the questionable nature of the new tour. As battle lines are being drawn, the narrative is only heating up.