Confidential documents reviewed by the New York Times reveal a proposal put together by an outside consulting firm set fantastical, and borderline unrealistic, assumptions needed for Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf to achieve financial success.
A 2021 plan called “Project Wedge” from the firm McKinsey & Company outlined a number of scenarios for the Saudi Arabian pro golf venture that ultimately launched in June 2022. According to the New York Times, the documents revealed that benchmarks for success the “need to sign each of the world’s top 12 golfers, attract sponsors to an unproven product and land television deals for a sport with declining viewership—all without significant retaliation from the PGA Tour it would be plundering.”
Clearly LIV Golf has fallen well short of those ambitious endeavors, failing in its inaugural season to land a TV deal or sponsors, and the PGA Tour has suspended any of its members who have defected to LIV, leading to a lawsuit between the two entities. It is not clear what constituted a “top golfer,” as McKinsey listed both Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson in this category, players who, while achieving past success, were well past their playing primes. Out of the 12 players listed—which included Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods—only Garcia, Stenson, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson have signed with LIV Golf.
McKinsey laid out three possible outcomes for LIV Golf: a struggling start-up, coexistence with the PGA Tour and dominance over the game. In its most successful endgame, LIV Golf would have projected revenue of at least $1.4 billion a year in 2028. According to the Times, the report noted that “by contrast, a league mired in start-up status—defined as attracting less than half of the world’s top 12 players, navigating a ‘lack of excitement from fans,’ reeling from limited sponsorships and confronting ‘severe response from golf society’”—stood to lose $355 million, before interest and taxes, in 2028.
The Times also reported that LIV considered assembling a board of sports, business and political mavericks to help with its opertion. Among the notables suggested to be part of such a board were Michael Jordan, Condoleezza Rice, Mark Parker (Nike executive chairman), Ginni Rometty (former IBM chief executive) and Randall Stephenson (former AT&T chairman and member of the PGA Tour Policy Board). Yet, nine of the people identified as possible board members contacted by the Times said they had never been approached about joining.
LIV Golf’s second season will launch in 2023 with a 14-event schedule handing out $405 million in prize winnings.