By Talek HARRIS
The disruptive new LIV Golf circuit could pay for TV coverage temporarily as it tries to build a long-term presence, its president told AFP, adding that the tour’s Saudi backers were looking a decade ahead or more.
LIV, whose luring of top players with record purses has enraged golf’s establishment, is currently on a “roadshow” of US and international broadcasters, president and chief operating officer Atul Khosla said at the Jeddah Invitational.
Responding to a report that LIV will buy air-time from US network Fox Sports, Khosla said LIV did not have “commercial terms figured out with any partner”.
“It could be that, it could be (revenue) share, it could be advertising dollars,” he said in an interview, when asked if LIV would buy air-time for a season before receiving any payment.
“There’s so many different ways to build deals out… I personally don’t get too hung up on any of it at this point.”
Khosla referred to Major League Soccer, the NBA in China and Formula One in the US, which all started with small-scale TV deals before building up.
LIV’s initial season is available on YouTube but it is not on TV despite being offered to broadcasters free of charge.
But Khosla said LIV’s backers, oil-wealthy Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, were playing the long game.
“I think we have an investor who has a long-term horizon. If the horizon was two years I would say okay, we have to have a very different deal structure,” he said.
“But if their horizon is 10-plus years, it’s a very different arrangement. You have to set it up now for five, seven years out.”
Khosla was speaking at the Jeddah Invitational, LIV’s first stop in Saudi Arabia and the last individual tournament of the season, which ends with a team event in Miami later this month.
– ‘Ageing product’ –
The new venture, with seemingly bottomless funding, has polarised golf and its fans, with many critics slamming it as an attempt to “sportswash” Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
It also coincides with a row between the US and Saudi Arabia over oil after Saudi-led OPEC+ slashed production despite Washington’s pleas for it to help lower prices.
Undeterred by the controversies, LIV is discussing a women’s version — with initial approaches to the LPGA and Ladies European Tour — and is strongly pushing its team structure.
Under that model, LIV golfers compete individually and as part of four-strong teams, which will ultimately be sold as franchises with the ability to trade players.
“We have commitments from players for multi, multi, multi years. We have a deep commitment from our primary investor, which has been fantastic,” said Khosla.
“(Golf) is an ageing product today, it has been for a long period of time. How can you make it younger? How can you make it faster? How can you make it hipper and cooler?” he added.
LIV’s innovations include 54-hole tournaments with no cuts and a limited field of 48. Players can wear shorts — still forbidden in traditional golf — and music plays from on-course loudspeakers.
With huge financial rewards, including a reported $200 million signing-on fee for 52-year-old Phil Mickelson, and at least $4 million for tournament winners, the attraction for players is clear.
However, they cannot earn world rankings points on LIV, affecting their chances of playing the four major championships. They are also barred from playing the US PGA Tour, while a similar suspension in Europe is currently before the courts.
Khosla said he was “optimistic” LIV would eventually be recognised by the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) board, which is stacked with PGA and European figures and is currently reviewing the case.
“The feedback we have from OWGR is they believe technically we are checking the boxes. They’re still working through the internal processes that they have to go through,” he said.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll get our points,” Khosla added. “But it would be nice to have them by now.”