DORAL, Fla. — With its inaugural season coming to a close this weekend, LIV Golf executives presented their plans for the future Saturday to a limited number of media. Atop the list: a new crop of players signed by December, fixed teams, and a new ownership structure focused on deriving commercial value akin to other professional sports franchises.
The 90-minute presentation was big on plans and littered with marketing detail, but what it included in theoretical business potential it lacked in specifics. A television rights deal — one of the most important pieces to public consumption and monetary value — is still a gigantic question mark. But while we wait for proof points to arrive, here is the path forward outlined by LIV’s leadership.
Here’s what LIV wants to look like:
The LIV Golf League will launch in 2023 with 14 events and players locked into specific teams. That we all knew. Now, those teams will be 75% owned by LIV and 25% by “principal players.” The player-owners are generally understood. LIV’s 12 biggest signings — including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau — are expected to fill these roles and benefit from any value their team derives as a part of the league. If a sponsor decides to affiliate with the 4 Aces — and to date, none have officially done this — the principal player will profit from their equity stake in the franchise. LIV says it has not filled its full suite of 12 principal players yet, a tease that more big-name signings could be on the way.
In its presentation, LIV used various other sports leagues as examples for the business model it is trying to create, highlighting the valuation of teams across the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. Teams are valuable entities and LIV’s business model dreams to achieve a semblance of that.
“Our belief is that people understand team sports,” said LIV COO Atul Khosla. “They play team sports. They can relate to be associated with a team, while having a favorite player as well. We feel that trend can continue in golf … I understand the concept is new to golf but the inherent human nature of wanting to be associated with a team is not.”
It’s worth noting that LIV has presented its hopes and dreams a few times throughout the summer of 2022. Some parts have been delivered, others have been kicked aside. Take, for example, the idea of a draft, which LIV promised would headline every event this year. It took place at the first event in London and then was scrapped for the rest of the season.
But as for the balance of wealth, LIV plans to pass down some of the costs it has been fronting this year to those franchises. Caddie travel costs, for instance, will now be managed from team-specific budgets. Annual salaries are set to come out of team budgets. The franchises are expected to employ their own staff of physios, trainers and the like. The rosters are also expected to remain fixed throughout the entire season. LIV’s rostering of players in 2022 was consistent only at the top. Some players played just one event, others three or four. Only 27 players played in every single event.
Moving forward, to maintain its imitation of what works in other sports leagues, LIV hopes to have one substitute player on each franchise. They will not be able to sub in week-to-week for different courses that suit their game better, but strictly for injuries. In effect, that’s the first step of a team academy like you see in football clubs across the world.
The end of each season — LIV hopes there are very many — will include a theoretical transfer market where players can be traded between franchises. It sets the mind racing, the idea that Mickelson could trade Matthew Wolff for Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra, but in reality most of these goals need to be met with patience. LIV players have banded together so fervently that there has rarely been an ounce of rivalry or tension that the league has long promised. Wednesday morning’s opponent selection show was filled with mild-natured humor.
But according to its executives, LIV sees many avenues for the teams to establish themselves and, as a result, derive their own value in the marketplace. Could a billionaire owner forge into the ownership structure and pony up the annual salaries for Bryson DeChambeau’s Crushers? Sure. But many questions marks still remain.
As for a television rights deal, LIV asserts it is in rights negotiations with multiple entities, but would not say who. When pressed with the idea of paying a network for airtime — which was reported by GolfWeek and denied by LIV last month — Khosla simply reiterated that LIV is in negotiations. Should it to come to buying airtime, LIV wouldn’t be the first sports entity to suffer this fate, but it doesn’t inspire as much confidence as if networks were lining up, begging for the opportunity. Both Amazon and Apple pulled out of discussions with LIV in September, while CBS, NBC and Disney (owner of ABC and ESPN) are believed to be uninterested due to preexisting agreements with the PGA Tour.
“Step 1 was to show them the product, which they clearly understand,” Khosla said. “We had to show them the graphics and how it would be very different. Step 2 was to clear the time. Based on a schedule for next year we have gone back and forth with outlets. We are now at the point where outlets have said time could be cleared. There are only so many times a year you can do that on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We are figuring out what the commercial arrangements could look like. I feel good about where we are but we have work to do over the next couple of months. We think we are providing an incredible commercial product. These are not six-month or one-year deals, if a TV network is getting behind this, it’s for multiple years.”
One thing LIV does not plan to touch is the NFL season. As far as scheduling goes, a January kickoff is unlikely. The week after the NFL season concludes is the same weekend as the Genesis Invitational, which is an elevated event on the PGA Tour and fits within the “heritage events” that LIV says it has no interest in competing against. Two weeks later is the Arnold Palmer Invitational, another one of those “heritage” events during which LIV will respectfully keep its schedule clear.
So there is a significant climb ahead of LIV organizers as to when exactly it will play. They don’t want to conflict with heritage events, they don’t want to host events the week before majors, and certainly will not host events during major championships. They also intend to host all 14 events between February and September. By this author’s count, that’s 14 weeks they won’t want an event, and 14 weeks they need to have an event, with 30 weeks to do it. It is likely an impossible goal. Toes will be stepped on. LIV expects to share its official schedule by the end of November.
If nothing else, the presentation was thorough and substantive while the first LIV season concludes this weekend. For a brand that has maintained relevancy all summer by announcing new signings and a spirited chase for world ranking points, the next few months could be quiet. For 2023, Khosla made the goals extremely clear: “We have got to start commercializing the product. We have got to get on TV, we have to get corporate partners. These are milestones that we need to hit.”