- The recent PGA-LIV golf merger is the latest example of growing Saudi influence on sports.
- The Saudi Public Investment Fund has invested heavily in soccer, both in England and domestically.
- Mohammed bin Salman has consistently proven that he’s willing to spend big to get competitive fast.
On Tuesday, when the PGA Tour agreed to merge with the Saudi-backed LIV Tour in a blockbuster deal set to redefine golf as we know it, it looked like a success on all fronts. The PGA would gain the considerable financial backing of the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF), and LIV would be lifted out of the relative obscurity where it spent its first several months.
But not all of those victories are created equal. A closer examination of the situation suggests the Saudis may have come out on top. Originally viewed as a deep-pocketed but unserious distraction from the PGA Tour, they effectively muscled into the picture through sheer financial willpower.
The new PGA Tour might look a whole lot like the old one, except with a far wealthier outside party controlling the purse strings. The Saudis now have one of the biggest seats at the table of a sport that seemed just a fledgling interest for them a couple of years ago.
It all happened very quickly. And that’s kind of been the Saudi strategy as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has expanded his influence over multiple sports worldwide. Between the purchase of a historic English Premier League team and the massive investment being made in the Saudi domestic soccer league, the PIF has not been shy about making big splashes to become competitive quickly.
The spread of influence has not been without its share of critics. They point at Crown Prince Mohammed’s human-rights record, which includes a checkered history jailing activists and critics, and — according to the CIA — commissioning the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Even the PGA once pointed at the Saudi leader’s past deeds in a counterclaim filed as part of an antitrust lawsuit. In September 2022, they said LIV offered recruits “astronomical sums of money to induce them to breach their contracts with the [PGA] Tour in an effort to use the LIV players and the game of golf to sportswash the recent history of Saudi atrocities.”
But none of that so far has stopped the Saudi takeover. Already in possession of roughly one-fifth of the world’s oil reserves — which fuel its seemingly endless supply of money — Saudi Arabia seems determined to grab more and more of the global sports landscape.
Detailed below are the six recent high-profile examples of how the Saudi PIF keeps winning: