With the announcement of a merger between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabian-owned LIV Golf, Brock experts have examined the impact of the oil-rich kingdom on the trajectory of world sport.
Assistant professor of Sport Management Taylor McKee says it is crucial to understand that the new golf deal is not the PGA Tour swallowing up a competitor and is instead a genuine partnership that is being developed with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund: the Public Investment Fund (PIF).
“It would be naive to imagine that this is the first instance of unsavoury money flowing into the coffers of professional sport organizations; however, it is important to note that the PIF is not simply purchasing a seat at the table: they are altering the blueprints, re-wiring the building and adding a pool to the backyard,” he says. “Just a year ago, PGA Tour officials and players were dead set against the incursion of Saudi money into the game, for reasons both legitimate and spurious. But the Tour now must acknowledge that either these issues have been resolved, which they have not, or that they are so satisfied with the financial upside of the deal that it outweighs their concerns regarding human rights.
“Either way, this is a tricky situation with many questions left unanswered by the PGA,” McKee says.
Associate professor of Sport Management Michael Naraine says the deal is part of a long-term Saudi investment strategy into sport and entertainment.
“Sport, elite sport especially, yields consistent returns over time, and so it’s not surprising to see the Kingdom diversify their investment strategy; this is ever more important as Western societies electrify and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels — where the Saudis make most of their cash,” he says. “However, there’s also the geo-political investment the Kingdom is making through ‘sportwashing,’ attempting to glaze over their record of human rights and social issue atrocities.”
Through the ownership of football clubs in England, international circuit events like F1 and LIV golf, and even partnerships with the World Wrestling Entertainment machine, Naraine says not to expect Saudi financial involvement in sport to be a passing fad.
“I don’t suspect the Saudis are going to stop investing in sport anytime soon,” he says. “In fact, their investments are only going to ramp up with a potential future target of an Olympic Games in 2036 or 2040, a so-called coming-out party of sorts.”
In the present, as the battle between the PGA tour and a Saudi-funded renegade competitor ends with a merger, McKee says the priorities of all involved were obvious.
“It’s clear that both sides are far more interested in collecting a ton of money than anything to do with morality,” he says.