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PGA Tour agrees to merge with Saudi-backed rival LIV Golf
By Lillian Rizzo, CNBC
The PGA Tour has agreed to merge with Saudi-backed rival LIV Golf in a deal that would see the competitors squash pending litigation and move forward as a larger golf enterprise.
The two entities signed an agreement that would combine the PGA Tour’s and LIV Golf’s commercial businesses and rights into a new, yet-to-be-named for-profit company. The agreement includes DP World Tour, also known as the PGA European Tour.
LIV Golf is backed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, an entity controlled by the Saudi crown prince and has been embroiled in antitrust lawsuits with the PGA Tour in the last year. The deal announced Tuesday would end all pending litigation.
PIF is prepared to invest billions of new capital into the new entity, CNBC’s David Faber reported Tuesday. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
The agreement — the second stunning sports deal in just months, following World Wrestling Entertainment’s merger with Endeavor Group’s UFC — will require the approval of the PGA Tour policy board, Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a memo to players that was obtained by CNBC.
“There is much work to do to get us from a framework agreement to a definitive agreement, but one thing is obvious: through this transformational agreement and with PIF’s collaborative investment, the immeasurable strength of the PGA Tour’s history, legacy and pro-competitive model not only remains intact, but is supercharged for the future,” he wrote in the memo. Deal talks started about seven weeks ago, he said later Tuesday.
Monahan also acknowledged the shock and anger triggered by the deal’s announcement, saying a meeting with PGA Tour players was “intense” and “heated.”
PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” that after the merger is finalized, which he expects to be “in a matter of weeks,” the new board is prepared to evaluate every proposal that is presented. Al-Rumayyan is slated to serve as chairman of the board.
“Whatever it takes that’s … what we’re committed for,” Al-Rumayyan told Faber.
LIV didn’t see its matches distributed on TV in the U.S. until a few months ago, when the league signed a deal with the CW Network as the exclusive U.S. broadcast partner. The CW had agreed to air 14 global events, which began in February. Terms of the multiyear deal had not been disclosed.
Nexstar Media Group owns 75% of the CW Network. A representative for the company said in a statement Tuesday there would be no change to the LIV Golf event schedule for 2023.
“This is exciting day to unify and grow the game of golf,” Nexstar said in the statement. “We look forward to broadcasting seven more exciting tournaments this year featuring the world’s best golfers.”
Monahan said the tour looked at the game of golf “on a global basis,” as its seen more growth in the sport outside of the U.S.
Still, he acknowledged Tuesday on CNBC that there has been a lot of tensions between the two organizations, but said “the game of golf is better for what we’ve done today.”
The two organizations had filed a series of antitrust claims against the other in recent months. LIV Golf sued The PGA Tour alleging anti-competitive practices for banning its players. The tour countersued, claiming LIV was stifling competition. Disputes ensued regarding the discovery process for evidence.
The lawsuits were spurred as the upstart league had lured multiple high-profile players, such as Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, from the PGA Tour after the tour had banned the players from competing in LIV’s events.
On Tuesday, Mickelson tweeted, “Awesome day today” as part of a post sharing the news of the merger.
The deal comes soon after LIV golfer Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship, one of four major titles in men’s golf.
As part of the agreement, the groups will establish “a fair and objective process for any players who want to re-apply for membership with the PGA Tour or DP World Tour” following the end of the 2023 season, according to a release.
LIV Golf, which launched in 2022 and has been spending top dollar to lure golfers, has also been the subject of controversy, criticism and political intrigue in the U.S. PIF has reportedly invested $2 billion into LIV already, and had aspirations of creating franchises and teams that could one day be sold.
Critics of LIV have also accused PIF of “sportswashing” by using the league to distract from the kingdom’s history of human rights violations.
Family members of those who perished in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have protested the league, including outside of events. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11 were from Saudi Arabia, and Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks, was born in the country. It has been concluded by U.S. officials that Saudi nationals helped fund the terrorist group al-Qaeda, although investigations didn’t find that the Saudi officials were complicit in the attacks.
The group 9/11 Families United said they were “shocked and deeply offended” by the merger in a statement on Tuesday.
“Mr. Monahan talked last summer about knowing people who lost loved ones on 9/11, then wondered aloud on national television whether LIV Golfers ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour. They do now – as does he,” said 9/11 Families United Chair Terry Strada, whose husband Tom died in the World Trade Center’s North Tower. “PGA Tour leaders should be ashamed of their hypocrisy and greed. Our entire 9/11 community has been betrayed by Commissioner Monahan and the PGA as it appears their concern for our loved ones was merely window-dressing in their quest for money – it was never to honor the great game of golf.”
The statement referred to when Monahan said during an interview with CBS Sports that he had discussed these controversies with tour players.
“I think you’d have to be living under a rock not to know there are significant implications,” Monahan said during the interview. “I would ask any player who has left or any player who would consider leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA tour?’”
Monahan on Tuesday said he expected to be called a hypocrite and that he accepts the criticism.
Former President Donald Trump, who has hosted a number of LIV Golf events at his golf courses, has defended those events, falsely claiming that “nobody’s gotten to the bottom of 9/11.” Last year, Trump also said on Truth Social that a merger between LIV and The PGA Tour was inevitable.
On Tuesday, Trump weighed in on the merger on his Truth Social platform: “Great news from LIV Golf. A big, beautiful, and glamorous deal for the wonderful world of golf. Congrats to all!!!”
– CNBC’s David Faber and Jessica Golden contributed to this article.
Read the full article here.