Senators grill PGA execs on negotiations with LIV Golf

Published: Jul. 11, 2023 at 2:32 PM PDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A Senate panel grilled golf officials today over a proposed merger between two high-profile leagues. The Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf Tour and the PGA Tour have agreed to a framework that could see the two leagues combine in the future.

Human rights and financial survival were brought to the fore on Capitol Hill. The Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Investigations pressed PGA officials but it was not just about the nuts and bolts of a merger that could completely change the game of golf.

“It’s about how a brutal repressive regime can buy influence and indeed even take over a cherished American institution,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Senators and PGA officials discussed a framework agreement between the golf giants that would see the more than $700 billion Saudi Public Investment Fund gain influence in America’s premier golf competition. Blumenthal sliced into potential consequences of the merger.

“What will happen to players when they want to speak out against Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses?” said Blumenthal.

LIV’s creation shocked the sports world in 2022, convincing some of the best players in the world to leave the PGA Tour by promising huge payouts. Accusations of so-called ‘sports washing’ began to fly – the idea that Saudi Arabia was using a new form of entertainment to distract from its human rights record and involvement in 9/11.

Senator Ron Johnson (D-Wis.) said he recognized the PGA Tour’s need to deal with a new bogeyman, adding there is no finalized deal to scrutinize just a framework.

“There’s nothing wrong with the PGA Tour negotiating its survival,” said Johnson.

Johnson also noted it is better for Saudi to empty their coffers into American sports rather than in other countries.

PGA officials testifying tried to downplay the influence the Saudis would have, and made it clear they are in survival mode.

“The framework would not be possible without the clear understanding that the Tour will retain full decision making authority,” said Jimmy Dunne, a PGA Tour board member.

“The dispute was undermining the growth of our sport, and threatening the very survival of the PGA Tour,” said Ron Price, COO of the PGA Tour.

This merger is facing a much more serious and consequential investigation from the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. It likely means a finalized deal between the two leagues will not come for some time.