HomeBusinessGolf’s Big Deal Veers Off Course

Golf’s Big Deal Veers Off Course

The Masters is a tournament steeped in tradition and hosts one of sports’ most storied gatherings: the champions dinner, when former winners meet at Augusta National Golf Club, and the previous year’s winner sets the menu.

But this week’s dinner was overshadowed by the fight between the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series that has split the sport. Last June, the two sides agreed to combine forces and end their battle. A deal hasn’t materialized — and possibly never will.

The only certainties, according to insiders who have spoken to DealBook, are that a final agreement isn’t imminent after a series of deadlines have come and gone. The players, who have become more powerful than ever, want an agreement. And whatever happens between the PGA and LIV may permanently shape the future of professional sports.

The Masters and the dinner highlight the schism. The 2023 winner, Jon Rahm, designed a menu that reflected his roots in the Basque region of northern Spain. There was, however, a bitter taste to his triumphant return: He quit the PGA Tour for LIV almost four months ago.

It took a legend of the sport, the two-time Masters winner Tom Watson, to take on the issue that was on everyone’s minds. “Ain’t it good to be together again?” he recounted telling them at a news conference two days later. “I hope that the players themselves took that to say, you know, we have to do something. We have to do something.”

The tours haven’t been sitting back. LIV is confident that more players will follow after Rahm’s defection.

The PGA Tour, meanwhile, is trying to build up its firepower and reach. In January, it secured an investment of up to $3 billion from a group led by Fenway Sports Group, owner of the Boston Red Sox. The group included Arthur Blank, a co-founder of Home Depot and the owner of the Atlanta Falcons; the hedge fund billionaire and New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, via his family office; the basketball star LeBron James; and the rapper Drake.

As part of the deal, the PGA Tour set up a for-profit company to better manage its commercial operations and better connect with younger fans. Players received equity as part of the deal, an effort to help retain talent as LIV Golf continues to poach them.

Crucially, the U.S. investors aren’t trying to outspend the Saudis, and the deal was structured to allow for the possibility of additional funds from LIV’s backers.

Talks are intermittent and a lot of obstacles need to be navigated. Yasir al-Rumayyan, governor of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund that finances LIV, held a summit in the Bahamas that included his first official meeting with the players on the PGA Policy Tour board, which includes Tiger Woods. The meeting was productive for fostering good will between the sides, DealBook hears, but there was no agreement on merger details. In the words of one insider: The longer a couple are engaged, the more doubtful it is that the marriage will ever happen.

Big questions remain unresolved, including:

  • Would a deal create a monopoly? The Justice Department plans to scrutinize any tie-up. If LIV were to disappear, it would be a red flag to regulators. But it could also be contentious if LIV continues. As part of the original framework agreement, al-Rumayyan would serve as the chairman of the joint entity. Serving on the board of both entities could irk regulators, who are already investigating directors who simultaneously serve on boards of competitors.

  • What is LIV’s value? To sign a deal, the two sides need to agree on a valuation. LIV is propped up by the huge amount of capital the Saudi wealth fund can tap. It touts the individual teams it has created as a part of the tour, but the dollar value of those teams has yet to be determined, and there are questions within the tour over whether that model works at all. Revenue from LIV’s media rights, which include a deal with the CW network, is thought to be paltry. The likelihood that LIV makes a significant amount on site at tournaments is also slim, given the high cost of putting on the events.

The expensive fight can’t last. Even the oil-rich Saudis, who are investing in sports worldwide to diversify their economy, are signaling a rethink on spending. This month, the kingdom scaled back its ambitions for a new $1.5 trillion desert city in what may be a sign that even golf can’t out-drive financial reality. — Lauren Hirsch

A hot inflation report scrambles Wall Street’s bets on interest rate cuts. The Consumer Price Index came in higher than forecast for the third consecutive month, prompting a slew of banks to slash their bets on Fed rate cuts this year. Higher inflation is expected to force the central bank to keep borrowing costs higher for longer, a scenario that spooked investors.

Jamie Dimon sees “unsettling” global risks weighing on the markets and his firm. The JPMorgan Chase C.E.O. delivered the sober assessment yesterday after mixed first-quarter results. Dimon didn’t predict a recession, but said that “the chance of bad outcomes is higher than people think.” In his annual letter to shareholders earlier this week, he warned that the economy was resilient but said high government spending and deficits and global uncertainty couldn’t be ignored.

Amazon and Apple double down on artificial intelligence. Andy Jassy, Amazon’s chief, told shareholders this week that its push into generative A.I. would produce new products and business lines, and that it would ramp up investment to develop its own A.I.-ready chips. Separately, Apple plans to overhaul its Mac line of personal computers with in-house M4 chips to make the devices more A.I.-capable, Bloomberg reports.

Shareholders speak out on Paramount’s talks with Skydance. A number of investors publicly voiced their concerns about Paramount’s decision to enter exclusive negotiations with Skydance. They worry that the deal will see the controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone, sell her shares for a premium but leave other investors with diluted stakes. Paramount also disclosed in a regulatory filing that four of its directors would not run for re-election at the company’s annual meeting in June.

Whether they like it or not, companies are playing a bigger role in national security. Big Tech often spots suspicious activity by rogue state actors before the Pentagon does. Ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for example, Microsoft figured correctly that Moscow would launch a cyberattack before a land invasion.

These details (and more) are laid out in “New Cold Wars,” the latest book by David Sanger, The Times’s White House and national security correspondent. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

How are companies being used for national security?

Companies, especially the big internet service providers, frequently see malicious activity long before the government can because U.S. intelligence services are, by and large, barred from operating inside the U.S. and inside American corporate networks.

In the Ukraine case, it was Microsoft and then Google that picked up the signs that the Russians were beginning to place code in both critical infrastructure and government offices — an effort to bring the Ukrainian government down electronically before a physical invasion.

Microsoft and other companies, including Amazon, then stepped in to help move Ukraine to the cloud and keep the government operating. That’s a role companies have really never played before.

To what extent does the government consider private companies that control critical infrastructure to be national security risks?

Elon Musk briefly was a poster child for the risks of companies getting deeply involved in national security. The Ukrainians famously called him and asked if he would open up Starlink, his satellite internet company, to enable them to basically attack Russian ships off Crimea, and he refused for fear that it might start a nuclear war because someone had told him that.

Suddenly you had a C.E.O. making the kinds of decisions you would expect to be made by the national security adviser. He got so much heat for this that he’s now working with the Defense Department on a separate, classified version of Starlink, called Starshield, that will be run entirely by the Pentagon so that he can get out of making those decisions.

What risks are posed by artificial intelligence?

A.I. may make it far easier to make deepfakes and far easier to spew out disinformation. On the other hand, it enables you to automate cyber defense to a great degree.

There are already discussions underway with China about whether or not A.I. should ever be entrusted with making decisions about how and when you might use nuclear weapons.

The real question of the new Cold Wars is whether or not nations that are pitted against each other as fiercely as China, Russia and the U.S. are can also agree to some common-ground rules that would govern A.I. and its offshoots. And we’re far from that.

Ben Bernanke, the former Fed chair, on the need to radically reform how the Bank of England makes its forecasts for the British economy. The central bank commissioned Bernanke to lead a review after it failed to predict surging inflation, and he found “significant shortcomings” in the bank’s economic modeling that was made worse by using antiquated software.

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Citigroup’s Jane Fraser, Exxon’s Darren Wood — they’re among the parade of business leaders to appear recently on “In Good Company,” a buzzy podcast developed by Norway’s massive sovereign wealth fund and of the world’s most important investors.

The interview-style series is the brainchild of Nicolai Tangen, the 57-year-old C.E.O. of Norges Bank Investment Management. The former hedge fund manager returned from London to his native Norway in 2020 to take the job, triggering a kind of national reckoning over whether a wealthy investor was the best choice to oversee the rainy day fund in a famously egalitarian country.

Less than four years later, the fund has swelled to a $1.6 trillion behemoth, helped by rising oil prices. Tangen saw the fund’s size as an opportunity to open doors at some of the most consequential companies in the world. He’s right: The fund has a stake in almost every listed company in the world. “I thought, you know, we own all these companies, we own big stakes, we actually have access to these C.E.O.s,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

Tangen has a knack for getting his interviewees to open up. This week, Elon Musk made headlines by predicting on the show that artificial intelligence would surpass human intelligence next year. The shows have covered vast ground, including the energy transition, the colonization of Mars and whether — in a conversation with Russell Weiner, chief executive of Domino’s Pizza — it’s ever OK to put pineapple on pizza.

We’d like your feedback! Please email thoughts and suggestions to dealbook@nytimes.com.

Source link



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Recent Comments