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Money

The people behind Strategic Sports Group, the PGA Tour’s new $3 billion investment partner

January 31, 2024
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Arthur Blank, John Henry and Steve Cohen are among the principals who make up the investors that are part of Strategic Sports Group. (Photos: Getty Images)

The PGA Tour has a new financial partner, Strategic Sports Group, as it formally launches PGA Tour Enterprises, a for-profit entity that tour pros will be able to receive equity stakes in. The $3 billion investment is coming from an organization with whom you're probably more familiar than you think. Regardless, here are a few details about who is helping fund the tour's new venture.

Who is Strategic Sports Group?

If there was ever a consortium to compete dollar for dollar with the Saudi Public Investment Fund, it's this one. Comprising active and former owners of other marquee sports properties, Strategic Sports Group (SSG) has principals worth more than $60 billion combined, including hedge-fund titan Steve Cohen ($20 billion) and Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank ($8 billion). If you have watched one minute of major American team sports in the past decade, odds are you have seen a team owned by one of the members of SSG.

Why are some of the names familiar?

Along with Cohen and Blank, who also own the New York Mets and Atlanta Falcons, respectively, the other members of the consortium own a who's who of professional sports teams. John Henry and Tom Werner of Fenway Sports Group own the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Penguins and Liverpool Premier League team. Mark Attanasio owns the Milwaukee Brewers. Thomas Ricketts is the Chicago Cubs owner. Wyc Grousbeck owns the Boston Celtics. Gerry Cardinale owns Italian soccer powerhouse AC Milan through his RedBird Capital Partners and was one of the founders of the New York Yankees' YES Network. Marc Lasry is the former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks.

You have probably also seen some of these names attached to golf in the past few months in the discussions about the TGL, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy's indoor golf league joint venture with the PGA Tour. Blank (Atlanta), Cohen (New York), Fenway Sports Group (Boston) and Lasry (San Francisco) own four of the six inaugural franchises that start competition next year. There's no doubt plenty of familiarity among the PGA Tour, its players and those groups from those negotiations.

Are there any other investment arrangements like this in sports?

Yes and no. The major American professional sports leagues—the NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL—are all non-profit organizations made up of independently owned franchises. The PGA Tour is also a non-profit organization, which limits its ability to take in outside investment. Those organizations generate revenue by making broadcast and licensing agreements directly. A closer analogue would be Formula One or Major League Soccer. Those leagues are centrally owned by for-profit entities. They can generate revenue in the traditional ways—television, licensing, ticketing—but also take outside financing to help fund anything from expansion to player payroll. Liberty Media, a publicly-traded company, bought the Formula One Group from a group of investment companies in 2017. MLS's central business entity sells licenses to franchise operators to run their teams, and the league owns all player contracts. Franchise "owners" like David Beckham are essentially investors in the league.

But even those examples aren't quite in the same bucket as the PGA Tour's deal with SSG in which a non-profit league spins off its commercial business into a for-profit partnership with an outside group. In this case, the PGA Tour as currently constructed would be the entity assigned to deal with the logistics of organizing and running events and legislating the players' participation, and the for-profit side will be tasked with monetizing the sport—via sponsorships, media-rights deals, licensing and the myriad other ways global leagues prosper. This investment structure gives the PGA Tour the ability to use outside investment to give players an ownership stake in the for-profit entity—and more skin in the game, so to speak—while tapping into the formidable marketing prowess of leaders in other professional sports leagues. It also leaves the door open to additional investment from other outside groups, most specifically the PIF, which the PGA Tour continues to talk to about possibly joining forces.

The co-marketing benefit of the deal is one another professional golf league has already recognized. The LPGA Tour made a deal with Fenway Sports Group last summer to use FSG's network to supercharge its promotional efforts. Getting tapped into FSG's sales network—and spreading the LPGA word through FSG-managed influencers like LeBron James—grows the size of the game's fishbowl. The PGA Tour is making a similar (but much larger) bet.