It would be nonsense to ask how much money top golfers need. How much they want, however? That’s easy. More. And more is what’s coming their way, this time from private equity investment into the PGA Tour, herd-following the Saudi investment via LIV Golf into the sport.
It’s not just golf where athletes are reaping the benefit of such investment fashion. Look at cricket, football, boxing and rugby union, with other sports set to follow.
As any schoolkid studying economics will tell you, too much money chasing too few goods spells inflation.
Top sports are short of true box office stars. Not simply great athletes, but superstars who transcend their day job.
Competition formats with economics that have the potential to reward these very few, by extension enrich those on whose shoulders they stand. Call it a trickle-down effect.
The new money pouring into big sport isn’t so much a trickle, though, as a flood-tide on which all athletes’ fortunes rise.
As this cash has flowed in, established competition structures have buckled.
The sight of wealthy golfers squabbling has been a bad look for their sport. Their inability to coalesce around a preferred architecture for elite golf risks confusing (at best) and alienating (at worst) the established fanbase. Hard too, given the shifting sands of power, to attract new audiences.
What shape could golf eventually settle into? The biggest stars are increasingly voting for LIV’s 54-hole, three-day format. Even Rory McIlroy, the PGA’s leading defence dog to date, has softened his public antipathy towards LIV.
Less work (or at least one day per tournament fewer) for more money has understandable appeal. The Ryder Cup, however, remains a pinnacle ambition for most of the leading golfers, it seems. The four majors, too, have a special cachet.
Imagine then a competition hierarchy with the Ryder Cup having top status, closely followed by the majors, with LIV as the preeminent year-round circuit and the PGA Tour events feeding talent into it.
The DP World Tour? A development series akin to the ATP Challenger tournaments in tennis for aspirant players.
Getting there requires Fenway Sports Group and its friends to accept that they are investing an initial $1.5bn into a PGA Tour that will play second fiddle to LIV.
Also that ranking points must be awarded across all events so as to ensure that the majors and Ryder Cup are contested by the very best golfers. All to be enshrined into a cooperation agreement that passes scrutiny by US competition authorities.
No-one says it will be easy, but the need for a solution is urgent. I’d say one must be found before golf’s sponsors wake up worrying they might be overpaying for exposure to a fractured sport.
The influx of cash into other sports may be creating less acrimony, but it is no less disruptive of the establishment.
How can cricket accommodate the existence of T20 leagues around the globe, all desirous of the most bankable players, as well as international fixtures across all formats of the game, and a domestic pathway to develop the stars of tomorrow?
Answer: first, carve out calendar windows for international competition; then, create a T20 structure that dovetails leagues which are contested by squads of cricketers employed by team franchises who compete around the globe.
These will likely be controlled initially by the current owners of IPL teams, and the IPL itself will remain the pinnacle club competition.
Sport natural selection
Natural selection will ensure local leagues shake down into a prestige or priority order for the franchise owners, who can then blood their younger talent in the lesser competitions.
“Red-ball county cricket?” I hear the traditionalists ask. A development route to the England team for as long as the public is prepared to fill Test grounds each summer, and there are opponents to bowl to (which may not be much longer for many nations).
Football’s European Super League refuses to go away. Barcelona’s president believes it might yet happen this autumn, citing a string of teams across continental Europe he claims could take part. Forget English teams for now.
The future for the best players and the biggest teams is inevitably cross-border competition. The more dominant one or two teams are in a national league, the greater the imperative to monetise their global followings by playing their counterparts from other countries.
How to overcome the conflict between local allegiances and this international lure? Bigger squads containing some players registered exclusively for their home league and others devoted to continental or global club competition.
The big get bigger, hoovering up, hoarding and rewarding the greatest talent. And would the dominant teams in England want to join? What do you think?
Barely a ripple
It’s Olympic year. You’ll know that, of course. But had you spotted that the World Aquatic Championships started in Doha last Friday and run through to 18th February? Paris 2024 qualification slots as well as medals are at stake.
You’d be hard pushed to find any coverage in the UK though, either in print or mainstream broadcast, even of Tom Daley’s gold in the mixed team diving along with Andrea Spendolini Sireix.
Snow way forward
I’m heading to Chamonix next week, more for warm red wine than hot red runs.
Mentally warming up, I was drawn to elite skier Chemmy Alcott’s lament at the effect of climate change on snow conditions, citing the cancellation of the downhill at the same resort last weekend which put a dent in the BBC’s Ski Sunday (which I confess I’d forgotten existed).
Then came news of the slowest skier in the first run of the Chamonix slalom winning the overall event after his second outing. The February heat had turned the course to slush, making it slower and slower as the 29 faster skiers took their turns.
Alcott makes much of the imperative to ski environmentally responsibly. Makes me wonder whether the time has come for UK Sport to cut outdoor winter sports from its funding list.
With money tight, and against the background of the climate crisis, is there sufficient inspiration from British sledders, freestylers and downhillers to warrant lottery support in our non-alpine nation?
Shouldn’t our focus of scarce resources be elsewhere? There’s £14m being pumped into these events ahead of the Milan Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics.
You can read Chemmy Alcott here.
Ed Warner is chair of GB Wheelchair Rugby and writes his sport column at sportinc.substack.com