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Writing On The Wall
Golf fans everywhere were gobsmacked when news broke last week that the PGA would merge with the 600 billion dollar sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf. The Saudi Public Investment Fund golf upstart league has faced much criticism since its inception due to the Saudi government’s human rights violations and alleged complicity in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Despite the early criticism LIV Golf received, they managed to attract some of the PGA’s top-tier talent; golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, and Bryson DeChambeau have ditched the PGA for the LIV Golf Tour for a hefty price tag. Phil Mickelson received 200 million dollars for signing with LIV Golf. With the PGA Tour’s premier talent departure and lack of funds, it would become increasingly difficult for them to compete, so a merger seemed inevitable.
In announcing the PGA Tour’s merger with LIV Golf, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan acknowledged the PGA Tour could not contest financially with LIV Golf. The Wall Street Journal reported that Monahan told his employees, “We cannot compete with a foreign government with unlimited money, this was the time … We waited to be in the strongest possible position to get this deal in place”
Is The NBA Next?
With the Saudi PIF taking control of golf and establishing its ties to soccer with the ownership of four Saudi Pro League teams and investments in Formula 1 racing, it begs the question of other professional sports leagues that would be viable investment opportunities for the Saudi PIF. Given its notable sports investments, some argue that the Saudi PIF is leveraging its sports involvement to distance itself from its reputation. On the other hand, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has a different point of view on the merger.
He expressed his stance by stating:
“But … now talking specifically about the NBA, where we’re such a global sport, I think people are a little too dismissive these days about the benefits that come from the commonality around sports. That with a sport like basketball — our finals are distributed virtually everywhere in the world, the sport is played everywhere in the world — it’s an opportunity to bring people together.”
The NBA has just nuanced its rules to allow investment from foreign wealth funds. So, an investment from the Saudi PIF is possible, though they have not communicated with the league office expressing interest; he also gave clarity on the distinction between investment versus power over the team when he said on the Dan Patrick show, “We allow funds to invest in teams but not control teams.” Commissioner Silver expressed how both golf and basketball are global sports. Given his comments, we can expect Saudi investments in the NBA; it is just a matter of when. With the NBA’s media rights deal coming up and a new CBA, it will be interesting to see how a potential partnership with the Saudi PIF could impact the growth of the NBA.
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