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PIF’s proposal to merge pro tennis offers clues into a potential partnership with the PGA Tour

March 14, 2024
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Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), and PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.

Public details about any potential partnership between the PGA Tour and the Saudi Public Investment Fund are still murky after PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan's state-of-the-tour press conference at TPC Sawgrass on Tuesday, but another emerging sports deal could provide some waypoints for what happens next.

The PIF has reportedly offered to consolidate the men's ATP and women's WTA tennis tours under one "premium" league banner for more than $1 billion, consolidating a hold on the sport that already includes marquee sponsorship of numerous events and title sponsorship of the ATP's ranking system.

The language being floated about the proposed tour should sound familiar to anyone listening to recent clips from PGA Tour player pressers involving Rory McIlroy and Wyndham Clark: a reduced calendar of events for the highest-ranked players in the world with gigantic purses operating outside the four men’s major championships. The PIF's added wrinkle comes in the form of joining the men's and women's tennis tours and offering equal prize money to both—not entirely a magnanimous gesture for a sport in which top women can earn as much or more in off-court endorsements than many male stars.

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Novak Djokovic during the all-stars match played ahead of the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone. The PIF has reportedly offered to consolidate the men's ATP and women's WTA tennis tours under one "premium" league banner.

Mondadori Portfolio

The PIF already has title sponsorship for the ATP Tour's season-ending championship finals, and under the new plan, the "PIF Tour" would comprise 10 events outside the four majors, all of which would be subject to the same media and marketing deals.

Tennis players not inside the rankings inner circle are probably asking the same questions journeyman PGA Tour and DP World Tour players are: Namely, what's the mechanism for moving up into the big money events, or even making a living. For comparison, the 100th player on the PGA Tour money list this year has made $328,582, and the LPGA Tour’s 100th-best has made $10,939. In tennis, the 100th male player has made $142, 035 so far, and the WTA's 100th best has made $122,725. All four tours use world rankings, qualifying tournaments and ongoing results in "lower level" events to determine qualification for majors and elevated events.

One point of contention for LIV is that being outside the world-rankings system leaves many of its players out of direct pathway to qualify for majors. That's not an issue when a parent company controls the sport and the rankings—essentially paving the way for top players to participate in not just marquee events on those tours but in majors run by organizations outside the tours' control. Tennis' major structure is remarkably like golf in that virtually all the majors are run by private (Augusta National, PGA of America, All-England) or national (USGA, USTA, Royal and Ancient, Tennis Australia, French Tennis Federation) organizations. The exceptions are the Chevron Championship (LPGA) and Evian Championship (LPGA and Ladies European Tour).

The obvious goal? Consolidate power and attention on one tour and use a firehose of revenue to promote a smaller constellation of stars. It's more efficient and less complicated than a sport splintered across numerous tours, but the devil is certainly in the details. Can PIF (or any other entity) transform a sport without breaking it, or breaking its tie to its fans?