The PGA Tour and LIV Golf shocked the world when the two bitter rivals announced plans to join forces. In its two-year effort to discredit the Saudi Arabian-backed LIV Golf, the PGA TOUR emphasized its association with “blood money” and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. So reaction to the news in both traditional and social media was filled with charges of hypocrisy, given the league’s sudden about-face.
According to Kantar Sports MONITOR’s 2023 Fan Engagement study, these negative views are likely to be shared throughout the U.S. sports fan community: U.S. sports fans (18+) are far more opposed (46%) than supportive (28%) of athletes playing in a league or team with Saudi Arabia’s financial backing (with the rest indicating they’re unsure or have no opinion on the issue).
Once the initial reaction to this unexpected news dissipates, though, reason for optimism exists for the newly formed alliance, as fans of golf are far more open to the Saudi Arabia connection. LIV Golf fans, as expected, are far more supportive of athletes receiving financial backing from Saudi Arabia (54% to 33%), but fans of the PGA Tour are split down the middle (42% support / 41% opposed). Given the bitterness of the rivalry over the last two years, these mixed views suggest that the reconciliation process—at least among fans—might be smoother than expected.
A larger issue for the golf league—and the sports industry as a whole—are fan perceptions of over-commercialization and greed; 64% of sports fans today agree, “Leagues and teams care more about making money than improving the fan experience” (which rises to 76% among Millennial male sports fans). As accessing sports becomes costlier as the cable bundle frays, it is an issue likely to outlive the very noisy, but brief history of LIV Golf.