Partnership Between PGA/LIV Golf Exposes Huge Divot in Fairy Tale of Sport

For centuries, cultures around the world have used fairy tales to communicate various cultural norms in an attempt to pit good versus evil in their storytelling.

In Medieval times, morality plays sought to tell stories that dealt with the very battle for one’s soul.

I thought of fairy tales and morality plays when I read that two feuding professional golf organizations had agreed to combine their operations.  Two sports leagues merging is certainly nothing new. The National Football League (N.F.L.) is the result of a merger between two smaller leagues.

Still, the merger of the PGA and LIV Golf is bigger than just two competing leagues combining forces.

According to published reports, the new merged golf league will be funded exclusively by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. This continues a trend by Saudi Arabia of sportswashing as a means to cleanse their image and launder their reputation through investment in various athletic events, teams and leagues.

The new golf partnership gets more slippery than a sand trap when one remembers that PGA commissioner Jay Monahan noted when asked in June 2022 about the Saudi kingdom’s ties to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack that, “I have two families that are close to me that lost loved ones. My heart goes out to them and I would ask that any player that has left, or that would ever consider leaving, have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour?”

It has been said that there is a prize at which anyone’s principles can be bought. It appears that the price at which the PGA principles could be bought was just paid by an entity tied to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Graphic R. Anderson

What a difference a year makes.

While PGA leadership seemed to have no issues with the old take the money and run approach, by trading in their principles faster than someone seeking free room and board with someone that they have philosophical differences with, it was reported that Tiger Woods turned down $700-800 million to play in LIV last year.

I certainly have not agreed with everything that Tiger has done in his life, but I certainly respect his stance in this regard.

It will be interesting to see if that stance remains now that the Saudi kingdom is basically signing the checks for Tiger and all of the other players in professional golf.

There is no reason to think that Saudi Arabia will stop their attempts of image repair at the 18th hole.

In addition to rumors that they want to buy World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), it is completely plausible to think that the kingdom could set their sights on buying one or more franchises in the MLS, NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL.

I could rattle off fact after fact about all of the reasons that selling sports assets, or any other assets to foreign powers is a bad idea

I could also list the various reasons why Saudi Arabia is not really the best country to be doing business with.

Instead, I have written a fairy tale of my own about the risk of compromising one’s principles and selling off sport assets to the highest bidder.

Once upon a time, there was a far away kingdom that was built upon sand. Underneath the sand, flowed a magic black goo that the rest of the world coveted.

Although this black goo was harmful to the planet, and other options existed to ween the world off of the goo, much like a cowboy on a mountain, the world did not know how to quit the black goo.

The kingdom knew the power they possessed. They wielded great might over the price of the black goo throughout the rest of the world by limiting how much of their goo they made available at any given time.

Much of the world was so dependent on the kingdom’s black goo that they turned a blind eye to many of the activities that occurred within the kingdom walls.

They would say, “while we certainly would not do things like that here, who are we to judge what other’s do behind their kingdom walls? Besides, if we do not buy their goo they will just sell it to someone else.”

The kingdom made so much money from selling their black goo that they did not know what to do.

One day, a man in the kingdom thought, “why don’t we use our black goo money to buy other things that the world is addicted to?”

For the kingdom knew that someday the world might decide they no longer wanted their black goo.

Therefore, the kingdom thought, we will use our money to buy prestige and respect in the world of sport in an effort to be someone others will admire and support.

And so it was that the kingdom started to acquire race horses and race cars and entire leagues of athletes with their black goo money.

There were quiet whispers from the rest of the world stating, “but we should not support this kingdom, they do not share our values.”

Still, those whispers went unheeded as many people were blinded by the shear magnitude of the amount of money the kingdom was willing to spend on their sport assets.

Even organizations that once shouted loudly from the clubhouse of the atrocities of the kingdom were won over by the vast amount of money the kingdom was willing to pay for their principles.

For you see, as long as the world remains dependent on the black goo that flows under kingdoms built on sand, few will be willing to take a morale stand.

To be fair, the issues in professional and collegiate sport run far deeper than whether or not assets are sold to Saudi Arabia.

The golf merger is just the latest example of how the world of sport is changing, and not for the better.

In addition to rumors that they want to buy World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), it is completely plausible to think that the kingdom could set their sights on buying one or more franchises in the MLS, NBA, NFL, MLB, or NHL.
Photo R. Anderson

In the same way that a theology student might unexpectedly become an atheist after getting disenchanted with what they learned at their seminary, I became more and more disheartened with the world of professional sport the deeper I got into my Sport Management master’s program.

I have spent a large portion of my career working in various capacities within the sports world.

For the most part, I enjoyed each of those experiences.

However, in the last few years I have noticed a rapid change in the way the sport industry operates.

The ideals of fair play and competition are rapidly giving way to greed and corruption at all levels of sport with no signs of stopping any time soon.

While the professional golf merger can be described as a cash grab way for the rich to get richer, it is certainly not the only example of sports leagues choosing profits over principles.

One need only look at how professional sports leagues went all in on embracing sports books and gambling to see how they are willing to monetize all areas of their business despite the optics.

As I noted in a column earlier this year, entire leagues are being created as mere television product giving little thought to building actual support from fans with the community.

In other leagues where fans are a factor, ticket prices are often inflated to the point that the average fan cannot afford to go see their team in person even if they wanted to.

In the current climate, there is every reason to believe that Saudi Arabia will seek to gain a larger foothold in American sports. There is also every reason to believe that if they do come calling, they, and their cargo planes full of money, will be welcomed with open arms.

Like someone believing all fairy tales have happy endings, perhaps it was naïve of me to cling to the ideals of sport bringing out the best in society.

Sport, like the rest of the society seems poised to continue to move towards a place where greed is good and only a small percentage get to live happily ever after.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the sudden urge to read some Brothers Grimm.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

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