In recent weeks, LIV Golf has emerged as an unexpected competitor for the PGA Tour. The fight has quickly gotten nasty, and the dollars quickly have mushroomed from enormous to obscene. Most recently, the possibility has emerged of the LIV Golf folks poaching Charles Barkley from his long-time role with Inside the NBA.
So, should the NFL be worried about something like this happening in pro football?
On one hand, it’s a lot easier to set up a series of golf events to compete with the PGA. Golfers are one-man teams. It’s a sport driven largely by TV, and it doesn’t take much infrastructure to drop players onto a course with cameras covering the action and a few broadcasters talking into microphones.
On the other hand, the nation has an overwhelming appetite for football, especially during football season. While the NFL, thanks iconic franchises throughout the nation and a massive fan base that follows the sport intensely and passionately, has the money and the power to beat back challengers (no one has even tried since the original USFL in the 1980s), the ongoing growth of legalized gambling will create an appetite for things on which to wager.
Tuesday and Wednesday nights remain wide open, and the league’s broadcast antitrust exemption prevents NFL games from being played on Friday nights and Saturdays from Labor Day through early December. That’s four night per week that a competing league could use — until the NFL inevitable begins playing games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
One specific hurdle would entail acquiring talent. More money could be offered to incoming players than the NFL currently pays, thanks to its 11-year-old rookie wage scale. Veteran players whose contracts expire also would be fair game.
Of course, a rival league would need to fund much more than player payrolls. Coaches, officials, executives, etc. Not to mention adequate venues.
Most importantly, the rival league would need one or more broadcast partners. That wouldn’t be easy, given that every major network already does business with the NFL. If one of the league’s broadcast partners became partners in the broadcasting of another league, the NFL would not be happy, to say the least. If a network that hopes to eventually do business with the NFL does business with another league, that network would dramatically reduce its ability to ever attract an NFL contract.
Obviously, it would take a lot money. The Public Investment Fund, the official name of the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, has launched LIV Golf. It reportedly has estimated assets of $620 billion. If the Public Investment Fund wants to try to take on the NFL, it can. It may not work, but it has the money to at least try.
Here’s the real question. Is LIV Golf a limited venture, or is it the first step toward broader ambitions of the Public Investment Fund? If it makes a move in the football industry, it can make it uncomfortable and expensive for the NFL, at a minimum. Along the way, it could bait the NFL into committing antitrust violations, which it already may have done to the PGA Tour.
The question isn’t whether it will. They question is whether it can. And $620 billion in assets says it can.
Thus, even if it never happens, the possibility should at least be flickering on the outer edge of the radar screen of the things about which the NFL is concerned. The NFL may need to be thinking about rapidly employing strategies for fending off an entity with ultra-deep pockets that decides to try to encroach on the NFL’s turf. And the NFL should be very cognizant of behaviors that could result in an eventual verdict far larger than the $3 it lost at trial after the USFL proved that the NFL had crossed the line of legal liability, but had failed to prove actual harm resulting from the league’s proven antitrust violation.