LIV Signs New Players; Will They Be Relevant Six Months From Now?
LIV golf has announced the signings of six former PGA TOUR stars: Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann, Harold Varner III, Cameron Tringale, Mark Leishman and Anirban Lahiri.
There was no anouncement indicating how many hundreds of millions the latest signings cost the rebel golf league.
Meanwhile, Hideki Matsuyama and Cameron Young — in spite of rumors — are staying with the PGA TOUR.
Of the signings, Cameron Smith is the most significant, as he currently is ranked number two in the world. Nieman currently is number 19, while the others are outside the top 40.
Workers have every right to sign with the highest bidder. LIV apparently is offering prospective employees astronomical sums of money and many are cashing in. Good for them. I also could be persuaded to work for LIV for $50 million.
I am, however, skeptical about LIV’s future as a golf tour. The Saudis do have virtually unlimited cash to throw at the league, so generating a profit is not a problem. (I just hope that the new hires are smart enough to get their cash up front.)
Relevance, however, is a problem. Without a tv deal or World Golf Ranking points, I think it legitimate to ask how many will care about LIV — or their players — outside of the frenetic LIV bots (human and otherwise) on social media.
By all reports, LIV’s streaming media attracted tens of thousands of viewers. That is not good. The Canadian Open brought 2.75 million in the final round. The Palmer had 3.86 million. Going back a year, the Players Championship garnered 4.59 million.
Without media exposure and rankings, I predict that LIV players will quickly be forgotten. We live in a “what have you done lately” society, where stars in every field rise and fall quickly. LIV’s last round of signings are yesterday’s news and rapidly becoming irrelevant. In this fleeting society, this round of hires won’t be relevant in six months.
Relevance — or a lack of it — is why LIV is so dead set on its players being able to continue to play PGA TOUR events when it suits them. LIV knows that without PGA TOUR exposure, their players — and by extension their league — will quickly lose value.
In Greg Norman’s vision, the PGA TOUR would become LIV’s minor league. This is why the “antitrust” lawsuit is so important to LIV. In effect, Norman wants the courts to force the PGA TOUR to subsidize LIV. The plan all along had to be that the PGA TOUR would continue to invest its time and money in providing a platform to create stars, allowing LIV to leech off those efforts.
The PGA TOUR’s refusal to be bullied has made the World Golf Rankings even more important to LIV. Without PGAT events to boost their rankings, LIV players will quickly fall out of the top 100.
At this juncture, LIV seems unlikely to get those points; the 54 hole, no-cut exhibitions just don’t meet the published standards. While it is true that there are a couple of individual tournament exceptions within tours that earn OWGR points, the various tours as a whole meet the standards. LIV as a whole does not.
I wonder about the thought process behind LIV’s strategy. Did LIV management think that getting OWGR points for its league would be unnecessary because their players would continue to play on the PGA Tour? Did LIV think that Norman could bully the OWGR board into giving it an egregious exception to its standards? Was LIV’s plan to sue the OWGR to force accommodation? Or did they just not read the rules?
Heh. If 54-hole, no-cut events get OWGR points, Bernhard Langer on the Champions Tour will likely be World Number One.
Without OWGR points, LIV’s only strategy going forward is to continue to sign highly ranked PGA TOUR players to boost its strength of field. Dustin Johnson finished 2021 at number three. He now is at number 22. Others who were in the top fifty — or hundred — are on their way out. Adding current number two Cam Smith and other currently ranked players is the only way the upstart can continue to boast a highly ranked field.
This strategy reveals the fundamental problem with LIV: the rebel tour is meaningful only because it continues to poach the PGA TOUR. What they are saying essentially is: “Watch the LIV tournament so you can see former PGA TOUR stars Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed!”
Ironically, LIV at the moment is nearly entirely dependent upon the PGA TOUR’s success at developing players. When its employees no longer are remembered as PGA TOUR stars — or worse, are labeled “former PGA TOUR stars,” as though they are B-Grade actors on the Love Boat, who will care about a LIV exhibition?
I like the idea of business competition. There is, however, no competition when the upstart is dependent upon the established institution. Imagine Tesla’s business plan depending upon GM’s production of cars, which Tesla then buys and rebrands as its own. Imagine Pepsi buying Coca Cola syrup and using that to fill its own bottles.
To succeed as a true competitor, LIV needs to wean itself of its PGA TOUR addiction and figure out a way to grow its own talent. That means spending hundreds of millions finding, developing and hyping relatively unknown guys in their early twenties. Anything less is simply rebranding another company’s products.