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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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PGA Tour’s Landscape Shifts With Saudi Talks, Evolving TV Strategies

  • The Tour Championship concludes a tumultuous season for professional golf.
  • A definitive agreement between the PGA Tour and PIF must be reached by Dec. 31.
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

In June, the PGA Tour announced a shocking partnership with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund — backers of the rival LIV Golf circuit that has lured numerous top players over the past year.

After Sunday’s final round of the Tour Championship concludes the FedEx Cup Playoffs — and thus the 2022-23 season —  the PGA Tour will enter a new, uncertain era.  

Ahead of the tournament, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said he was “certain” a definitive agreement would be reached with the PIF. But questions are mounting about the deal’s completion ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline — sources told Front Office Sports progress has been slow.

Monahan and other Tour officials have repeatedly pointed to the ongoing negotiations when asked for specifics about what the future could look like. 

“I’m not going to talk publicly about them until we’ve completed those discussions and I can answer that question specifically and directly,” Monahan said at his annual “State of the Tour” press conference.

What To Watch

In Atlanta, Monahan wouldn’t commit to allowing banned players back on the PGA Tour in 2024. But if and when they are readmitted, the Tour will surely try to make the most out of the controversy, which will be riveting TV.

“We’re thinking about everything now, in terms of formats and how to integrate it,” PGA Tour chief media officer Rick Anderson told Front Office Sports. “We’ll be looking at the short and medium term, but we’ll also be thinking about the long term. What’s the value of introducing teams into our sport?”

LIV Golf is currently broadcast on the CW, but if the PGA Tour creates any new competitions post-merger, expect its media partners in CBS, NBC, and ESPN to have those rights. Anderson said any potential additions to the Tour calendar would almost certainly fall within the current media contracts.

PGA Tour viewership was up 3% on NBC broadcasts this year, with Golf Channel telecasts (early-round and weekend lead-in coverage) trending up a further 9%. ESPN+ saw gains, too, as PGA Tour Live remains the most-watched content on the streaming platform. CBS, which is broadcasting the Tour Championship, has not released final season figures.

Longtime media consultant Patrick Crakes doesn’t expect the PIF deal to have any negative effect on the TV product. “I don’t get any sense from any of them — golf’s media partners — that they see this as something that fundamentally changes their view about their investment,” Crakes said.

Golf’s New Landscape

When the 2024 PGA Tour begins in January — the Tour is monitoring the wildfires in Maui, site of its season-opening event — top players will navigate a consolidated schedule that will include eight Signature Events with $20 million purses, in addition to the four majors, Players Championship, and FedEx Cup Playoffs. LIV hasn’t announced its 2024 schedule yet, but the 2023 season began in February.

“There’s incentives now for the signature events for everyone to show up because the FedExCup points are higher,” Rory McIlroy explained. Scottie Scheffler called them a “nice reward” for players who qualify by finishing in the top 50 the previous year.

It’s an evolution of the “designated events” structure that began this year, as several high-money, no-cut tournaments offered players a semblance of security amid the threat of LIV.

PGA Tour president Tyler Dennis told FOS that the framework agreement with PIF didn’t have any impact on the creation of the 2024 schedule. But should the Tour reach a definitive agreement with PIF as planned, it appears all scenarios could be on the table for next season — and certainly for 2025 and beyond.

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