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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV extend deadline to finalize deal

Ron Price, chief operating officer of the PGA Tour, and Jimmy Dunne, a board member of the tour, during a congressional hearing to examine PGA’s tentative deal with LIV, on Capitol Hill, in Washington on July 11, 2023. The tentative deal for the men’s golf circuits to join forces had a Dec. 31 deadline, but significant questions remained. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Lauren Hirsch

When the PGA Tour and the upstart LIV Golf league, which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, announced their groundbreaking deal in June for the men’s golf circuits to join forces, they left most details unanswered and set a Dec. 31 deadline to figure them out.

Now, with that deadline having come and gone, it is clear that the two sides will need more time.

The PGA Tour commissioner, Jay Monahan, said in a memo to players Sunday evening that the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, were “working to extend” the negotiations into the new year.

The sides had been discussing signing a formal one-month extension, which could be further prolonged, said three people familiar with the negotiations who were not authorized to discuss them. But while both sides remain focused on completing a deal, they have not set any new formal deadline.

Those negotiations continue as the PGA Tour progresses on simultaneous talks to raise additional money from Strategic Sports Group, an investment group led by Fenway Sports Group — the parent company of the Boston Red Sox, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the English soccer club Liverpool.

Monahan said on Sunday that the tour and Strategic Sports Group “have made meaningful progress” in their talks and that the tour had “provided S.S.G. with the due diligence information they requested.” The parties are focused on finalizing terms of the deal and documents, he said.

The PGA Tour, the Saudi wealth fund and the Strategic Sports Group entered 2024 with significant uncertainty about the deal. Since the June announcement, questions that had initially accompanied the agreement’s frenzied rollout appear to have compounded: How will potential U.S. investment sit alongside Saudi money? How will the golf circuits work together even as the Saudis still actively seek to poach PGA Tour players?

The planned partnership was announced on June 6 with scant contours of an actual agreement. The PGA Tour and the Saudi wealth fund had planned to work out the details, including governance, the valuation of assets and how the money would be put to work, by the end of 2023.

About two weeks after the tentative partnership was announced, the tour and the Saudi wealth fund, which had been bitterly feuding for months, agreed to drop their acrimonious litigation against each other. LIV had accused the tour of violating antitrust laws, and the tour had accused LIV of improperly interfering with existing player contracts.

In the months since, the preliminary pact has faced backlash from players, who said that they were blindsided by the deal, and American lawmakers, with some demanding further investigation into the tour’s ties to Saudi money and influence.

Discontent among players, including those on the powerful PGA Tour policy board, has been pervasive. And LIV Golf recently signed Jon Rahm, the No. 3 player in the Official World Golf Ranking, poaching him from the PGA Tour and highlighting the Saudis’ continued willingness to spend money on the sport and make LIV a competitor to the tour.

“To have Jon on board was critically important to our future and what we want to do,” Greg Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf, said of the move. “It will create a domino effect — there will be more apples falling from the tree — no question about it, because LIV continues to develop.”

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