KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia
Phil Mickelson claims the PGA Tour’s “insufferable greed” and ownership of media rights is why players are lured by the prospect of competing tours, such as one backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, Golf Digest reported.
Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson are among 20 PGA Tour members playing for exorbitant appearance fees at the Saudi International this week.
The tournament is now part of the Asian Tour, which received a $300 million inflow from Greg Norman’s new LIV Golf Investments, funded primarily by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia.
Mickelson, a 45-time winner on the PGA Tour, and DeChambeau were the two most prominent players associated with talk of a “Super League.” Players like Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Jordan Spieth have said they are not interested.
In a pre-tournament press conference, Mickelson said the competition gives players leverage and that the threat of a rival league prompted the PGA Tour to launch a $40 million Player Impact program (which he won last year hat) to create and increase prize money and FedEx Cup bonus money.
He later told Golf Digest that the players who don’t own their media rights bother him.
“If the tour wanted to end a threat, they could just return the media rights to the players,” Mickelson told Digest. “But they would rather throw $25 million here and $40 million there than return the roughly $20 billion in digital assets they control. Or give up access to the $50+ million they make every year on their own media channel.”
He didn’t say where he got the $20 billion figure from.
The PGA Tour declined to comment. The Tour, like other major sports organizations, relies on media rights as its primary source of revenue.
“The media rights are just a small fraction of everything else,” Mickelson said. “And it’s the insufferable greed of the tour that really opened the door for other opportunities.”
Mickelson was irritated in 2018 when he staged a winner-take-all show match with Tiger Woods in Las Vegas. It was the first of five matches, and Mickelson said he paid the tour $1 million for each match.
“For my own media rights,” Mickelson said. “That kind of greed is beyond disgusting to me.”
However, this arrangement has long been the standard for unofficial televised events like the old Skins Game or the Monday night matches that Woods was involved in 20 years ago.
Mickelson also mentioned to Golf Digest that someone at the 2010 Masters wanted to use a seven-second clip of a shot he hit out of pine straw onto the 13th green. He said the fee was $30,000 per second each time the clip aired, and the total cost was $3.5 million. Augusta National, not the PGA Tour, owns those media rights.
Norman this week announced two of the proposed 10 new events on the Asian Tour in Thailand and England, the latter taking place a week before the US Open. He hasn’t spoken specifically about a Super League, nor has he announced players who are ready to join.
The Daily Mail reported, without citing sources or terms, that DeChambeau was offered $135 million to join such a league.
“I’m not sure how that’s going to play out,” said Mickelson, the reigning PGA champion, who turns 52 in June. “My absolute loyalty is to the game of golf and what it has given me. I am so thankful for the life it has given me. … I know that I will be criticized. That’s not my concern. All that would suffice would be to dumb down one of the most complicated problems in sport.”
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