Merger negotiations between golf’s PGA Tour, the DP World Tour (formerly European Tour), and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) will continue into 2024 after the trio failed to finalize a deal before their deadline of December 31.
A framework agreement uniting the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and the PIF-based LIV Golf circuit was first announced last June amid the trio’s bitter public spats and legal disputes and was initially slated to be completed by the end of 2023.
However, negotiations have now been complicated by interest from private equity companies looking to invest in PGA Tour Enterprises, the new for-profit company at the center of the framework agreement, with the PGA Tour announcing it had agreed to advance talks with Strategic Sports Group (SSG), a new consortium led by Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the US sports ownership group.
In a memo to players on December 31, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan insisted “meaningful progress” had been made with SSG and were “working towards finalization of terms and drafting necessary documents.”
He said: “As you know, the [PGA Tour policy] board unanimously directed management to pursue exclusive negotiations with SSG. I am pleased to report that we have made meaningful progress and have provided SSG with the due diligence information they requested.
“As we move forward in our discussions, we are focused on the finalization of terms and drafts of necessary documents. We also continue our active and productive conversations with PIF and the DP World Tour. While we had initially set a deadline of 31 December 2023 to reach an agreement, we are working to extend our negotiations into next year based on the progress we have made to date.
“Our goal for 2024 is to reach agreements with SSG, PIF, and the DP World Tour, bringing them on board as minority co-investors in PGA Tour Enterprises. These partnerships will allow us to unify, innovate, and invest in the game for the benefit of players, fans, and sponsors.”
According to the framework agreement, the for-profit assets of the three circuits will be combined into a new subsidiary tentatively called NewCo. After an evaluation of those assets, the PIF, which owns 93% of LIV Golf, will make a minority investment into the new entity.
NewCo will be an umbrella for all future golf-related investments of the three groups and plans to create financial returns through “targeted mergers and acquisitions to globalize the sport.” The PIF, meanwhile, will invest in both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour as a “premier corporate sponsor.”
Along with FSG, which owns English soccer’s Liverpool and Major League Baseball side the Boston Red Sox, other SSG investors include Marc Attansio (Milwaukee Brewers), Arthur Blank (Atlanta Falcons), Cohen Private Ventures (New York Mets), Wyc Grousbeck (Boston Celtic), Tom Ricketts (Chicago Cubs), and Marc Lasry (Milwaukee Bucks), as well as Gerry Cardinale, managing partner of RedBird Capital which owns Italian soccer giant AC Milan.
The update comes three weeks after lawyers representing 21 golfers, including former Masters champion Danny Willet, wrote to the PGA Tour to demand “full disclosure” on ongoing negotiations between the tour and the PIF after being “kept in the dark about this process.”
The letter has demanded “a meeting with independent directors on the policy board to understand the process that has been followed and will be followed going forward. Importantly, we seek assurances that all conflicts of interest will be disclosed.”
Externally, the deal has caught the attention of the US government and is under investigation by the US Senate. Subpoenas were handed out to the PIF’s US subsidiaries in September demanding the release of documents related to PIF’s ‘framework agreement’ with the PGA Tour and “related investments throughout the US” after it refused to comply with the Senate’s original request voluntarily.
A review of PIF’s public filings shows its public US holdings have increased to more than $35 billion compared with around $2.5 billion in 2018.
During the hearing, Blumenthal and witnesses accused Saudi Arabia of exploiting loopholes in certain investment platforms to spread their influence and exert soft power in the US, as well as ‘sportswash’ criticism of alleged human rights abuses back home.
On golf and the PGA Tour’s deal specifically, the subcommittee pointed to problematic language in the proposed framework agreement that allows PIF significant control of the US entity.
While the PGA Tour has maintained its belief that it controls its future as part of its proposed deal, documents released by Congress contain language in the framework agreement that may give Al-Rumayyan the final say over any matters.