Rory McIlroy in action (file photo). Alamy Stock Photo

Rory McIlroy calls for 'guarantees' amid debates over golf's future

The world number two is preparing for his 18th full season on tour ahead of the inaugural Dubai Invitational.

Updated at 18.09

RORY MCILROY feels that the days of golfers being independent contractors are changing as the PGA Tour and LIV Golf continue to negotiate a merger that could reshape the future of the sport.

The former world number one, speaking Wednesday on the eve of making his 2024 season debut at the Dubai Invitational, said that while he may not have changed his views on LIV Golf completely, he could see some of the positives that have come out of it. The Saudi Public Investment Fund-backed League has been able to put together a global schedule and guarantee the presence of stars in all their events.

“When you look at different sports and the media landscape and how much these media companies are paying for sporting events, I think you have to be able to guarantee them the product they are paying for,” said the four-time major champion, now ranked second in the world.

“In my opinion, I would say that people would have to be contracted and sign up to a certain number of events every year; that the sponsors and media partners know that the guys they want to be there are going to be in their events.

“You can’t ask these media rights partners, or the sponsors, for as much money as they’re being asked for, if they are unable to guarantee them the product that they want. It can’t happen unless you want to regress and go back to playing for the money we played for 10 years ago.

“If the guys want to do that and stay independent contractors, that’s fine. But the sponsors that are either pulling out of the PGA Tour or are considering it because of the numbers that they are having to put up. They’re not seeing all the stuff that I’ve said.”

McIlroy argued that the viewing numbers are growing, but people are focused mostly on TV numbers.

“You can say that the viewing figures aren’t growing at the rate the purses are growing. The two are sort of not congruent with each other. If you look at every sports league, the viewership isn’t trending with the amount of money that the media rights partners are paying,” said the 34-year-old.

“If you look at NBA, or even NFL, the viewing numbers are huge, but they’re still gone from what they once were. The thing is, sports aren’t just competing with other sports, you’re competing with TikTok, Instagram, social media companies, YouTube. It’s a very old-school way of thinking to just think viewership numbers are about people watching on TV and not on iPads or laptops or streaming.

“But, I still think if the media rights partners and the sponsors aren’t seeing the value in putting these sort of figures up, then we need to do something about it.”

- ‘Exposed the flaws’ -

In a podcast last week, McIlroy seems to have softened his stance on LIV Golf, going to the extent of saying that the new league has “exposed the flaws” in the PGA Tour.

“I don’t think my view of LIV Golf has changed. I still don’t think it’s a good product. But I was maybe too judgemental of the players that went there,” said the Northern Irishman, who recently quit the PGA Tour’s policy board.

“I still don’t think it’s doing anything for the game, or if it is, I don’t think it’s huge. But I think if done in a different way, it could be beneficial. But the fact that it sort of created this division, and this sort of upheaval in the game for the last two years, I don’t think has been great.

“But yeah… people can argue that it takes two to tango. And, you know, a few sides are probably to be blamed for it. Once I stepped back a little bit and I could reflect on my own, I could see why players would join them.

“The reason that amateur golfers turn professional is to make money playing the game. And if an entity or a person is willing to pay you more for your services than someone else, I understand why you’d join them. I don’t have to agree with it, but I can understand it.”

“I’m excited for the year,” McIlroy added before getting his season underway in the inaugural Dubai Invitational, with a title defence of the Dubai Desert Classic following next week.

“This is my 18th full season on tour, which is mad to think about. But I’m as excited as I was for the first one. I think every new year [brings] new opportunities, new goals.

“My consistency has really been there over the last couple of years, without winning one of the big ones.

“I think that’s the final piece of the puzzle for me, especially coming out of Covid and sort of going through some dips in my game and then coming back up and playing so well the last couple years.

“The final piece of the puzzle is trying to knock off one of those four.”

– © AFP 2024

Additional reporting by Press Association

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