Nick Rodger Nick Rodger
When isn’t a merger a merger? When it’s, of course, a strategic partnership. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes scratch my head like Neil Lennon staring frantically at his Strategy Board with the marketing jargon, CEO talk and press releases.
We spend several hours going through minutes in this company and sifting through claims. As I sat huddled at my dining room table – which is meant to act as a formal office space, but is about as clean as the tea party of a chimpanzee – while pondering the vagaries of the newly declared “strategic alliance” between the European Tour and the PGA Tour, my wife noted that I reminded her of “The Thinker.” sculpture by Auguste Rodin.
I suggested, “Ah yes, a seductive, philosophical man caught in somber meditation and struggling with a powerful inner battle?” “No, a guy who constantly lounges around with his chin propped on his hand when he should be writing his damn column,” came the mocking reply. The risks of getting to work from home, eh?
The joint announcement Friday was grandiose but low on information. “The financial details are subject to an NDA and are private, so I can’t divulge them,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said as he talked at length about stuff he couldn’t really speak about during a long, straightforward batting exercise that would draw appreciative applause at county cricket during an early inning.
Pelley added with his typical ebullient verve, “This is a momentous day when the PGA Tour has gone from being a competitor to a partner,”
In short, the partnership that has been somewhat hastily announced enables the PGA Tour and the European Tour to partner on commercial opportunities, global media rights and scheduling in some territories.
The effect of the coronavirus has demonstrated the need for systemic reform at the top end of the professional game in several ways in this horrific year.
Since the beginning of June, the PGA Tour, which has been at a standstill for three months, has been playing almost every week. In July, with a series of new tournaments offering limited prize money, the European Tour resumed. Most of them were no more than EUR 1 million, and the fields were scarcely marked with stars.
Despite the destruction of a pandemic, the tournament annually played for $7 million around the pond. In 2019, over $1 million was won by 112 players on the PGA Tour. With such wealth, the European Tour will never compete, and only in this troubled campaign has the long-standing divide widened. Behind-the-scenes workers who were laid off in the chaos would be disturbed by the fact that Pelley said the European Tour was in “robust financial shape”
The proposed Premier Golf League (PGL), a 48-man, multimillion-pound merry-go-round sponsored by Saudi money that would draw top players away from established tours and into a global Formula One style circuit that would include a series of 54-hole events without a cut, plus a team dimension, was lingering in the background, of course.
The top brass of both the European Tour and the PGA Tour stood together when the PGL announced its ambitious vision earlier this year, in which money would be no object, and released statements urging players not to jump ship. The threatening advances of the PGL had clearly hit a nerve. Pelley announced Friday that the private investors behind the PGL had approached him to take the European Tour to “another level,” but decided that a stronger connection to the PGA Tour was in the best interest of the game.
How the strategic partnership will grow – don’t you dare call it a takeover or merger if you’re in Pelley’s business – remains concealed under the NDA, but a world tour is getting closer, something Greg Norman proposed more than 25 years ago.
Most weeks of the year, golf takes the same thing to various parts of the globe, but there may be a distinct lack of prestige and sense of opportunity beyond, say, the majors, other flagship tournaments and the Ryder Cup. No promise of commitment is simply wasting money on activities.
Earlier this year, Rory McIlroy, one of the most important commercial assets on both sides of the Atlantic, made an appeal for the global scene to be streamlined. His observation was warranted