LIV Golf president: ‘We need to commercialize the product’
LIV Golf president Atul Khosla has made it clear that the primary goals of the Saudi-backed breakaway series in 2023 are to land “milestone” sponsorship and television rights deals to begin commercializing the product.
Over the weekend, Dustin Johnson’s 4 Aces team held off Cameron Smith’s Punch GC team to win the season-ending competition at Trump National Golf Club in Doral, near Miami, Florida.
Despite the enormous sums of money on the line – the event had a record $50m (€50m) total purse and a $16m prize for the winning team – only around 60,000 people watched the final stages on streaming service YouTube.
Ahead of LIV Golf’s plans for a 14-tournament schedule in 2023, will offer a total prize purse of $405m, Khosla laid out the organization’s business model, which includes adding more more “statement” signings, begin building out its ambitious team-based model, and landing a primary broadcast partner in the United States.
“On the US front, we are back and forth with a few different networks,” said Khosla, who is also LIV Golf’s chief operating officer. “Step one was to show them the product, which they clearly understand. We had to show them the graphics and how it would be very different. Step two was to clear the time. We are now at the point where outlets have said time could be cleared. There are only so many times a year you can do that on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
“We are figuring out what the commercial arrangements could look like. I feel good about where we are but we have work to do over the next couple of months. We think we are providing an incredible commercial product. These are not six-month or one-year deals, if a TV network is getting behind this it’s for multiple years. We have got to start commercialising the product. We have got to get on TV, we have to get corporate partners. These are milestones that we need to hit,” Khosla said.
Khosla did not deny that LIV might pay a network, reportedly Fox Sports’ cable channel FS1, to broadcast its events in the US.
LIV Golf has also embarked on a global roadshow of presentations and meetings with broadcasters as it initiates its first rights cycle that will target exclusive deals worldwide.
Some of the players have even been involved in discussions with international broadcast partners.
“We’re also really using the players for (broadcast discussions), they’ve been awesome,” Khosla said. “So depending on the part of the world where the player is from, they’ve actually been on the calls with us with the TV networks, talking about the model and explaining why this would be amazing. Which has been actually fantastic to see and we’re grateful for their support.”
According to the Daily Telegraph, the 2023 schedule will comprise nine events in the US, with five around the rest of the world. Three of the US-based events will be at courses owned by former US president Donald Trump, in Washington DC, Bedminster and Doral.
Meanwhile, Valderrama, which staged the 1997 Ryder Cup, is expected to host the LIV Spain tournament.
The 2023 LIV Golf League is not expected to compete with the four golf majors, heritage tournaments on the PGA Tour such as Arnold Palmer Invitational, or the National Football League season. This points to a February-September season.
But it is ultimately hoped that LIV Golf’s novel team-based format will enable the Saudi sovereign wealth fund-backed project break even, or potentially turn a profit, in the long term.
Whether this comes to fruition, however, is decidedly unclear.
Initially, LIV Golf will own a 75-per-cent share in each of the 12 teams, while high-profile players such as Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Sergio Garcia, Johnson and Smith will be guaranteed a 25-per-cent equity stake.
In the immediate to medium term, teams will be able to secure their own commercial deals, such as uniform sponsorships, but they must also take on all the operating costs of their franchise, such as travel, medical, marketing and any other staff.
In the long term, LIV Golf hopes to sell off the franchises, which the organization hopes will become major entities on the global sporting landscape, even though the concept of team golf has been limited to international competition thus far in the sport’s history.
“Our belief is that, it might not be from the get go, but people understand team sports. They play team sports,” Khosla said. “Yes, they have a favorite player as well, it is no different from anywhere else, but they do relate to being associated with a team. We feel like that trend can continue in golf, as well.
“The concept I understand is new in golf, but the inherent human nature of our aspect of wanting to associate with the team, that is not,” he said.
Team rosters are expected to be fixed for the entire season, but there is also the prospect of substitute players and a soccer-style transfer window.
The details of LIV Golf’s business model come a few days after Mickelson declared that LIV Golf is a “force in the game that’s not going away” and new men’s world No. 1 Rory McIlroy expressed fears of an “irreparable” split with the PGA Tour.