“The Williams’ sisters couldn’t do that in tennis”
Speaking to BettingSites.co.uk, Dr Rob Wilson, football finance expert and professor of economics at Sheffield Business School, spoke exclusively on the news that golf legends Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have launched a new “high-tech league” which will be called TGL.
The tournament, which will start in January 2024, has financial backing from Serena and Venus Williams, NBA icon Stephen Curry and Liverpool FC’s owners, Fenway Sports Group.
Full interview transcript
Question. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have launched an indoor “high-tech league”, called TGL. Does this have the potential to rival LIV Golf?
Rob Wilson: “I see the new competition as being complementary to both LIV Golf as a breakaway competition and also the normal PGA tour. What we’ve seen in sport is the formation of these breakaway competitions, but more appropriately the shorter-form formats of these competitions which make them easier to consume.
“Twenty20 Cricket and The Hundred is a good example of matches you consume in a shorter time frame, these are games of teams playing each other that should last no longer than two hours and provide further opportunity for fan engagement.
“So it’s a new proposition for the sport of golf and will attract a different audience to those traditional fans covering the PGA and more complimentary to LIV Golf, but certainly demonstrates that these new competition formats are very much in the ascendancy.”
Q. What does it say about the future of WTA if Serena and Venus Williams sisters are investing in golf and not tennis?
RW: “As an investor you’re looking for the quickest way to return your investment, and how do you shorten a game of tennis other than reducing the number of games required to win sets and the number of sets required to win matches?
“The tennis calendar is already heavily populated so I think this really was an opportunity for Williams’ sisters to invest in an alternative sport and one they probably already follow, one they can see has a level of excitement already attached to it.
“And of course you have two sporting superstars who are attached to it, which very much improves the potential for revenue growth, decent fan engagement and ultimately ROI thay may not be there through other investment opportunities.”
Q. Are Fenway showing signs of boredom by investing in TGL?
RW: “I don’t believe Fenway are showing signs of boredom, but what you have with the Fenway Sports Group is very much a multi-sport operations model where they are looking to invest in different types of sport. That’s very different to say the Man City owners, who are looking to invest in other football operations where you have these joint models of ownership.
“City’s group focussed solely on football, Fenway are looking to diversify their investments across the landscape and ultimately I think that diversified portfolio is what any investor would really be looking for if they were investing in financial markets.
“A diversified portfolio often performs better over the long-term because you can ride out downturns and upturns in trade and get a much better average position. I think that’s really what Fenway are looking to do, spread their risk across a number of different sports and competitions and hope for an ROI over the long term.”
Q. Is this a fightback against LIV Golf?
RW: “I wouldn’t say it’s a fightback against LIV Golf, but what we have seen over the last five years in particular, 10 years if you extend it out to when the Abu Dhabi group first got involved with Manchester City, is that the Middle East has looked for reimaging opportunities. Some will call that sportswashing, some will talk about geopolitics, but ultimately what they are looking for is investment strategies that will diversify those countries and the GDP of those countries away from oil reserves and fossil fuels.
“Sport has been seen as the elixir to that, so they can drive a reimaged region that can drive tourism, bring in new events and that type of thing that will enhance GDP and we saw that with the Saudi PIF with Mohammed Bin Salman quoting that he can raise GDP by 1% through investments in football, and saying if that’s sportswashing then naturally they will look to do that.
“What we have also seen is that it coincides with that period of time where a lot of American investment and new forms of investment are coming into sport, because as a product it’s much more risk free or a lower level of risk than perhaps previously, and that’s because of restrictions in competition formats, the closure of leagues, a salary cap and more regulated system which means the investors are much less likely to lose their investment through things like relegation.
“You also have a massive upside in terms of digital footprint and digital content and digital fan engagement, which is what we’re seeing through the new competitions which is looking to attract new audiences who will ultimately spend a bit more money so I think really what all these investors are doing, wherever they are, is seeing sport less as a luxury good that it perhaps once was and more of a necessity in life, and it it’s a necessity in life you can carve the product up into lots of bite size pieces and sell that content accordingly and make some money.”
Q. What does this tell us about investment in sport in 2023?
RW: “The sport landscape is very diverse and it’s only through this acceptance of new technologies and strategies to engage fans that it will really start to drive different competitions and different revenue generating opportunities.
“We have just seen the LA Lakers have launched their new app which is designed to sell content to their global following which will increase their revenue significantly, and a lot of these competitions whether it’s LIV Golf, whether it’s TGL, or IPL or The Hundred, or any other versions of sport, it’s all about revenue generations through these new very entertaining competition formats.”