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LIV Golf, backed by Saudis and Trump, sees franchises in its future, exec says

BEDMINSTER, N.J. – LIV Golf is just three tournaments in, but the Saudi-backed upstart league is already thinking big about its future.

In an interview with CNBC, LIV Golf Investments President and COO Atul Khosla said the future of LIV Golf is teams and creating franchises that can one day be sold. The organization is holding an event this weekend, starting Friday, at former President Donald Trump’s golf club in New Jersey.

“We’re building 12 teams with franchise values, just like any other sport that we fully expect down the road to have a valuation to be sold,” he said. “All of those things will happen in golf that happen in every other sport.”

Khosla says the early learnings from their first two tournaments in London and Portland is that fans love golf as a team sport. He says their team merchandise sales sold out in the first day at the first two tournaments. “The team concept is really resonating with our fans,” he added.

The new golf league is financed by Saudi Arabia’s Private Investment Fund. The Kingdom has set its sights on the sports sector as another investment piece in their portfolio and has invested a reported $2 billion into LIV Golf.

LIV is using the Saudis’ money to lure top players from the PGA Tour, offering equity in the league, bigger prizes and guaranteed money. They’ve signed big name players like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau. They’ve snagged top golf commentator David Feherty away from Golf Channel and reportedly have their sights on TNT’s Charles Barkley.

“We do have a longer runway,” Khosla said. “But our investor definitely wants to see returns at the end of the day.”

The Saudi support has created some controversy for LIV, however. Family members of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are protesting the league. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers that day were from Saudi Arabia, and Osama Bin Laden, the attacks’ mastermind, was born in the country. U.S. officials concluded that Saudi nationals helped fund the terrorist group al Qaida, although investigations didn’t find that Saudi officials were complicit in the attacks.

South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel of the Stinger team in action as he putts for a birdie on the 18th hole during the second round, June 10, 2022.

Paul Childs | Reuters

Trump on Thursday defended hosting the event, falsely claiming that “nobody’s gotten to the bottom of 9/11.”

The group 9/11 Justice protested near Trump’s course, which is less than 50 miles of the Ground Zero site in lower Manhattan.

“To see a former president pretending that he doesn’t know what the Saudis did, or saying that he doesn’t know about the 9/11 story, it’s just it’s it’s the worst form. It’s the worst feeling you can get,” the group’s president, Brett Eagleson, told CNBC. He was 15 when he lost his father when the Twin Towers collapsed after hijackers crashed airliners into them.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sided with the protesters. “I support the 9/11 families’ pursuit of justice and remain committed to holding Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions,” he said in a statement Friday.

Khosla also defended LIV. He said the league isn’t the only one with ties to Saudi Arabia. “There are about 23 PGA Tour partners today that have ties to the multibillion dollar business in Saudi Arabia. I’m not telling the PGA Tour to not have sponsors,” he said.

“It’s an interconnected global economy so just because a bunch of golfers took a little bit of money,” he added. “I just don’t think you need to get all worked up.”



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