PGA Tour Defends LIV Golf Deal Earlier than Senate Listening to

A PGA TOUR logo is seen after play was suspended due to severe storms during the third round of THE PLAYERS Championship held at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida May 14, 2011 .

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The PGA Tour has begun a public defense of its deal with Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf ahead of a key Senate hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

The tour’s chief operating officer, Ron Price, who is due to testify on Tuesday, published an op-ed in The Athletic on Monday defending the deal and explaining why it was the best outcome for the future of golf. He also argued that the agreement should not be considered a merger.

“Given the well-documented litigation between the PGA Tour and PIF, we understand the fair and legitimate questions raised by PGA Tour members, Tour partners, media, fans and now Congress,” Price said in the comment.

The article comes days after an upheaval in the PGA Tour’s policy board that added another twist to what could be a rocky road to getting the deal approved.

Former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson resigned on Saturday from the PGA Tour board of directors, which he has served on since 2012. Stephenson resigned as lawmakers were likely to launch a full investigation into the merger between the PGA Tour and LIV, beginning with Tuesday’s Senate hearing.

Senator Richard Blumenthal and Senator Ron Johnson, chairman and senior member respectively of the Homeland Security Committee’s Standing Subcommittee of Inquiry, called Tuesday’s meeting. The senators called on officials from the tour and the Saudi Public Investment Fund to appear before the panel.

While senators have asked PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan for testimony, Price and independent policy board director Jimmy Dunne will appear instead, the tour said in a statement last week. Monahan has been placed on leave due to an unspecified medical situation, but recently announced he will be returning to the role on July 17.

Jay Monahan, PGA TOUR Commissioner, speaks during the trophy ceremony during the finals of THE PLAYERS Championship at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 12, 2023 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

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“We look forward to appearing before the Senate subcommittee to answer their questions on the framework agreement that keeps the PGA TOUR at the forefront of the future of professional golf and benefits our players, our fans and our sport,” said a Representatives of the PGA Tour in an interview current statement.

The tour didn’t comment further than Price’s comment on Monday.

The senators said in a previous letter that the subcommittee was considering the proposed agreement and the “Saudi fund’s investment in Gulf in the United States, the risks involved in a foreign government’s investment in American cultural institutions, and the implications of those proposed.” Agreement” to improve professional golf in the United States in the future.

It is not known if officials from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund will testify. PIF officials have not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Defend the deal

Last month, the PGA Tour and PIF’s LIV Golf and Europe’s DP World Tour agreed to merge. While the exact terms and valuation of the deal have not yet been announced, an initial outline of the proposed deal shows that a for-profit subsidiary of the PGA Tour would emerge and that the new company would manage commercial assets for all tours. The PGA Tour would administer competitions.

The proposed deal came as a shock to the sporting world – including the Tour’s own players – after months of tensions between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, which resulted in both companies filing antitrust lawsuits against each other. All legal disputes between the two have been settled as part of the proposed agreement.

Price acknowledged in his Monday comment that the deal came as a surprise after two years of “unprecedented conflict.”

Negotiations are still ongoing and the framework settles the litigation between the two companies. Price claimed that due to the confidential nature of the deal, “much of the initial reaction was negative and riddled with misinformation or misunderstanding.”

“We fully accept that and deeply regret it. Going forward, we firmly believe that the more the facts are discussed and understood, the more support our constituents will be able to give to a potential final deal, if it does happen, and look forward to what’s positive and lasting.” “That has implications at every level of our game,” Price said in his comment Monday.

The two companies have been embroiled in antitrust lawsuits since last year. LIV had sued the Tour, accusing it of anti-competitive practices in banning its players, while the Tour countersued, alleging that LIV was suppressing competition.

Price defended the framework agreement as a positive outcome not just for the Tour but for all of professional golf. He said the agreement “provides clear, explicit and enduring guarantees that ensure the PGA Tour will make the decisions that shape our future and that we have control over our operations, strategy and continuity of our mission.”

He added that an agreement between the sides would allow for further investment in players, events, venues, communities and technology. The PIF has announced plans to invest billions of dollars in the new company.

Price also claimed that the deal was “not a merger.” He wrote that the tour would remain intact and that the newly formed subsidiary would include PIF as a non-controlling minority investor, as is the case with “many other American companies”. The majority of the board of directors that govern the PGA Tour Enterprises are appointed by the Tour and chaired by Monahan.

Following the announcement, top player Rory McIlroy – who has repeatedly criticized LIV Golf over the years of controversy – expressed excitement that the proposed deal would be described as a merger.

LIV controversy

Since its inception in 2022, there has been controversy surrounding LIV. The PIF is not publicly held and is a sovereign wealth fund controlled by bin Salman. Critics have accused the fund of “sportswashing”, using LIV and other sports investments to improve the oil-rich country’s image and distract from the kingdom’s history of human rights abuses.

Stephenson pointed to one of these alleged violations in his letter of resignation to his fellow board members on Saturday.

According to a memo viewed by CNBC, the tour informed its members Sunday night of Stephenson’s departure from the policy board. It noted that there is “no specific time frame by which a successor independent director must be appointed”. The four remaining independent directors will work in consultation with the board’s five player directors and the PGA director to fill the position.

In the memo, he wrote that he had “serious concerns” about the proposed deal and whether he was evaluating it objectively based on the US intelligence report in which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the 2018 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi or The memo was previously reported by the Washington Post.

Stephenson’s concerns about accepting Saudi investment are similar to those expressed by other tour participants in addition to politicians. Stephenson did not respond to requests for comment.

A 2021 US intelligence report revealed that the Saudi crown prince authorized an operation to capture or kill journalist Khashoggi in 2018. It detailed Bin Salman’s control of decision-making in Saudi Arabia and the involvement of a key adviser and members of the Prince’s Protection Command in the operation that killed Khashoggi, a critic of the royal family.

Lawmakers have expressed doubts about the merger since the Golf Tours announcement. Leading Senate Democrats have raised antitrust concerns and pushed for an investigation into the merger.

“Fans, players and concerned citizens have many questions about the proposed agreement between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf,” Johnson said in a press release last month.

While the Investigation Subcommittee has broad powers to investigate matters, including corporate abuse, committee hearings are relatively infrequent and typically mark the early stages of a longer investigation. The hearing on the merger is the committee’s second this year.

Before calling the meeting, Blumenthal announced his intention to examine the deal in light of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses.

When the deal was announced, Monahan acknowledged the shock and anger it caused among players.

LIV golf events were met with protests, particularly from the families of those who died in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers that day were from Saudi Arabia, and Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attacks, was born in that country. US officials concluded that Saudi nationals helped fund the al-Qaeda terrorist group, although investigations did not show that the Saudi officials were involved in the attacks.

Members of the group 9/11 Families United have criticized the deal. They also solicited comments from Monahan in an interview last summer when he said he had discussed the 9/11 connections with players on the PGA Tour and implied that the organization was on a higher moral footing than LIV.

“I think you’d have to be living under a rock not to know there’s a significant impact,” Monahan said during the CBS Sports interview. “I would ask any player who has left or any player who is considering leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being on the PGA Tour?'”

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