Tuesday’s announcement that the PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and LIV Golf have reached what amounts to a merger agreement probably shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was.
Historically, there’s all sorts of precedent for this conclusion to the year-long rift. At one time or another, literally every major North American team sport has gone through a similar revolution and emerged with pretty much the same outcome that Tuesday’s announcement suggests golf is headed toward.
To the extent this announcement caught us off-guard, it’s probably due to the level of acrimony expressed so regularly between the Tours. For the record, social media has almost certainly done its part to ramp up the volume on that acrimony.
In business matters, however, acrimony rarely gets in the way of accommodation where large sums of money are involved.
With the announcement of a deal to drop the lawsuits, set up a common governing body, work out a funding formula and create a format for the reinstatement of the suspended players, the Tours are only doing what sports governing bodies have done for more than a century when faced with the presence of a competent rival threatening a monopoly. Assuming the insurgent league is viable — which LIV is —
Some level of merger is always the result.
This pattern was established in baseball in 1903. Two years earlier, the American League had arisen as a challenger to the established National League; it was the LIV Tour of its day minus the implications inherent in the latter’s connections to Saudi Arabia. The better-funded American League raided NL rosters for talent, established teams in several NL cities, and succeeded so well that within two years NL owners opted to sue for peace.
In the late 1950s, a group of investors who were also football fans launched a similar insurgency against the established NFL. Men such as Lamar Hunt, Ralph Wilson, Bob Howsam, and Bud Adams, rebuffed in efforts to gain NFL franchises, created their own league, and often outbid the existing teams for college talent.
That battle lasted five seasons, but by the mid-1960s – facing stars of the magnitude of Joe Namath and John Hadl and a network TV contract – NFL owners opted for a merger rather than a continued fight. The result was the progenitor of the NFL we know today.
The NBA and NHL both went through similar battles in the 1970s. Created in time for the 1967-68 season, the ABA lasted until 1976, when four of its nine teams – the Denver Nuggets, New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs, and Indiana Pacers – were swallowed whole by the NBA.
The World Hockey Association arose in 1972 with a dozen teams as a direct challenge to the NHL. The WHA lasted until 1979, and the terms of the agreement included four WHA teams – the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Hartford Whalers, and Quebec Nordiques – joining the NHL.