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PGA Tour, European Tour get on same page

European Tour CEO Keith Pelley
Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the European Tour

‘Strategic alliance’ paves way for men’s tours to emerge from pandemic and shape future of men’s and women’s professional golf

What should have been considered a surprising announcement – a “strategic alliance” between the PGA and European tours – was anything but.

It’s clear that the loose association between professional golf’s top two men’s golf tours is more about agreeing to agree in the future. The two organizations formalized over the weekend that they will work together and, possibly, go beyond an alliance.

The two tours have been in discussions for years and have worked together since many of the elite members on the tours play on both sides of the Atlantic. Because each organization exists for the betterment of its membership, it makes sense that the two would talk.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed professional golf, especially its scheduling and the safety concerns for all involved. The future must consider a big pot of gold of both tours: broadcast rights fees and content delivery.

As part of the alliance, the PGA Tour agreed to take a minority investment stake in European Tour Productions, which the European Tour had purchased outright from a partner in 2018.

“I've always believed that ourselves that we are a content company and even more so now in the world of consumption of content across multiple platforms,” Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s chief executive officer, said in a 2019 interview with Morning Read in Saudi Arabia after the acquisition of ETP. “You need to control your content. If we didn't control our content, then I think we wouldn't be controlling our greatest asset.”

Pelley and his PGA Tour counterpart, commissioner Jay Monahan, have been asked often about a merger between their tours, with many observers considering it to be inevitable.

Those questions reached a crescendo in January when inquiries from Premier Golf League, a proposed rival tour financed by Saudi Arabian money, arose at the European Tour’s Saudi International tournament. Many of the game’s top players reportedly had been offered deals worth “hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to a report in London’s The Guardian newspaper, to join the PGL. Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka – at the time were ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, in the world – publicly rejected the overtures.

At the time, Monahan and Pelley insisted that they had no interest in discussing any relationship with The Raine Group, the London-based organization that is behind the Premier Golf League, along with the group’s Saudi backers.

In a story published by Scotland’s The Courier newspaper after the announcement, Pelley conceded that the deal with the PGA Tour was preferred versus a counteroffer to the European Tour from The Raine Group.

“Let me be perfectly clear: we did not have to enter into this agreement or any other,” Pelley said. “We chose to because it’s in the best interest of both tours, for our players, for both golf fans and for the global professional game.”

Pelley has maintained that the economic health of the European Tour is solid, but after the 2020 Ryder Cup was postponed for 12 months, sponsorships were reduced across the tour’s diminished schedule.

So, what will the alliance really mean?

Both tours will focus on an unknown short-term future with the pandemic, but a long-term goal of controlling men’s and women’s professional golf worldwide. Monahan will get a seat on the European Tour’s board of directors, but Pelley will not receive a similar chair at the PGA Tour’s table. Nothing nefarious should be read into the board seat for Monahan. It makes sense that the European Tour would want to involve the PGA Tour in its operations to further the alliance as well as the fact that the PGA Tour has now taken a minority interest in the European Tour through its investment in ETP.

Think of the alliance as the first definitive step in a long process that has two friends talking toward a goal that will benefit both memberships, and likely golf fans in the future.

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