Nobody Can Own A Sport
By J.P. McNaney
As I follow the recent events unfolding in the world of professional golf, I find myself contemplating what the real end game is for both LIV and the PGA TOUR.
A cynic would say that LIV is trying to buy golf and, in fact, they might be correct.
PGA TOUR loyalists will argue they are fighting for the “integrity of the game.”
Taking a closer look, I am not convinced that both are not true, but not just that LIV wants to buy golf or that the PGA TOUR want to protect golf. The truth is they probably both think they are protecting golf, but also both want to own it.
Here is where I start to simmer.
No one person, entity or organization can OWN any sport.
MLB does not own baseball. The evidence is in the fact that Japan won the World Baseball Classic this spring with a team mostly comprised of players from the Japanese league, Nippon Professional Baseball. Baseball is played in well over 100 of the 195 countries in the world.
Sure, MLB is the largest and strongest league, but baseball is played by kids in sand lots everywhere.
The NFL does not own football. “Gridiron Football” as it is called outside the US, is also played all over the world. Germany, England, Australia all has professional leagues. You don’t even have to go too far outside the US. The Canadian Football League (CFL) is actually older than the NFL.
Like MLB, the NFL is the most dominant professional league, but don’t tell SEC fans that the NFL owns football.
The English Premier League, the Bundesliga, Serie A and the MLS are all world class professional soccer leagues (before purist come at me, MLS is successful financially that makes them world class…not to mention Lionel Messi now plays for Inter Miami so…). If any one league in the world of soccer thinks they “own” sport, they are sorely mistaken.
Go to any country in the world and you are bound to find kids (or even adults) playing soccer football in any neighborhood.
I say all this because of what I witnessed on July 11th. As Jimmy Dunne and Ron Price sat in front of a Congressional hearing, all I could think about is “is this about protecting a game or a brand?”
The answer is resoundingly, “protecting a brand.”
Mind you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the PGA TOUR trying to protect their brand. No company in the world would sit by idly as an outside organization brought a “real threat” as Price described it, to the brand that company spent 50 years building.
Where I have a problem is the fact that most of the non-golf media is describing this as an attempt by the PIF to take over all of golf.
They are apparently trying to take over professional golf, much in the way they are trying to take over soccer and Formula 1. Greg Norman even suggested so in many previous interviews.
The organizations that truly need to protect golf are (and I can’t believe I am actually saying this) the USGA and the R&A.
Yes, you read that right.
Admittedly I have been critical of both organizations on many occasions. I stand by those comments, but I also believe that the moment when both governing bodies can show their real worth is now.
Along with the members of Augusta National, the USGA and the R&A all claim to be the caretakers of the “game” of golf. While all three sat mostly silent as the LIV Golf “hostile takeover” started taking shape for a variety of good reasons, if they really want to hold on to their claim, they need to publicly take the lead on the “integrity of the game.”
And so far, they seem to be doing so, but both organizations are largely comprised of average, everyday golfers. Sure, the people at the top are power brokers in golf, but the people that compete in their events, pay their membership fees, and generally speaking, are the USGA and the R&A are…well…us.
And that is where these organizations’ true power lies…golfers.
In the end, I agree with the PGA TOUR protecting their brand. It is their well-earned right to do so.
As someone who believes in a free market economy, I also cannot disagree with LIV, or any other enterprise, choosing to compete for the dominance of the consumer product that is professional golf. Whether someone consumes their product or not is completely up to the consumer.
So let both sides fight it out.
At the end of the day, we are the sport of golf. No one can own it but us!