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Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy's new tech-infused golf league announces next franchise in Boston

June 26, 2023
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Charlie Crowhurst/R&A

Just because the PGA Tour and LIV Golf have put down their arms doesn't mean the jockeying for position in the competitive golf marketplace has stopped.

TGL—the indoor golf league mashup co-founded by Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy's TMRW and the PGA Tour—announced Fenway Sports Group (FSG) as the owner of the New England area franchise, joining the Los Angeles group headed by Serena and Venus Williams as the first two of six teams scheduled to begin play next January.

Like the Williams group, which also includes Serena Williams' husband and Reddit founder Alex Ohanian, Fenway Sports brings a powerhouse roster of sports experience to the experimental league, which will feature stars like Woods, McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas competing in broadcast-friendly events on simulators in bespoke arenas. FSG owns the Boston Red Sox, Liverpool Football Club and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins along with management interests for players like LeBron James and broadcast properties like New England Sports Network. It also owns two of the most famous sports venues on the planet in Boston's Fenway Park and Liverpool's Anfield, which have been hosting games since 1912 and 1892, respectively.

It's no surprise that TLG and the PGA Tour are courting deep-pocketed ownership groups for the indoor golf league, as the tussle with Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed LIV has demonstrated how expensive it is to create attention—and protect your turf. The Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the most prominent of the sovereign wealth funds focusing capital allocation on professional sports. This week, the Qatari sovereign wealth fund was announced as a new minority owner in Monumental, the $4 billion company that owns the Washington Wizards (NBA), Mystics (WNBA) and Capitals (NHL). It's the first time a foreign fund has secured an ownership stake in one of the "big four" American/Canadian team sports.

The TGL franchise announcements and the deals the Saudi and Qatari funds have cut with the various sports leagues in which they invest make for an interesting comparison when it comes to access and power. The PGA Tour's stake in TGL presumably guarantees a pipeline of high-profile tour players that would make a franchise like FSG's much more valuable. In top-tier soccer, acquiring players is almost completely about spending serious money. In the past six months, the Saudi professional soccer league (which is backed by the PIF) has spent more than $400 million to attract stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N'Golo Kante to come play in what until recently was a third- or fourth-tier professional league in world soccer.

But the NFL, NBA, MLB and the NHL have deeper moats. Non-individual ownership is prohibited in the NFL, and even a minority ownership sale must be approved by the collective group of NFL owners. The other leagues allow funds like the Saudis' and Qataris' (or other fund vehicles like family offices) to buy minority ownership shares, but that ownership can be only passive, meaning no say in how the teams are run.

Why would the Qataris (or the Saudis, with their prospective partnership with the PGA Tour) buy shares without any control? To increase the value of their other assets, for starters. The Qatari fund already owns property near the arena where the Washington teams play, and in 2011, an offshoot of the fund bought Paris Saint-Germain, one of the largest and most prominent soccer clubs in the world—that has recently fielded stars like Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe. Strategic and marketing cross-pollination could only help both entities.

The upshot? The massive investment in golf is just getting started—and the professional competitive part of it will look even more different than it already has over the past year. Like any windfall spread over a wide group with interests that often aren't aligned, the elbowing is just getting started, too.