Keith Pelley Leaving As CEO Of European Tour For Canada’s Maple Leaf Sports

VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) — Keith Pelley is leaving as chief executive of the European tour to lead Canada’s largest sports and entertainment group, at a time when his circuit is negotiating with the PGA Tour and the Saudi backers of LIV Golf on a deal that could reshape the golf landscape.

Pelley, a Canadian broadcast executive when he took over the European tour in 2015, will leave April 2 to become president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, whose holdings including the Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL and the Toronto Raptors of the NBA.

“This role with MLSE, and the chance to be involved with my hometown sports teams in Toronto, was the one opportunity that I simply could not resist,” Pelley said Thursday, his 60th birthday. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do at some point in my career and I’m very grateful to be given that chance.”

Guy Kinnings, Pelley’s deputy and the executive director of the Ryder Cup, will replace him in what figures to be a seamless transition. Kinnings has been a key figure in European golf since joining the tour in 2018.

Kinnings previously was the head of IMG’s global golf vision at the peak of the agency’s involvement in the sport.

MLSE, one of the largest sports and entertainment groups in North America, has assets in four of the six major sports leagues on the continent. Along with the Maple Leafs and Raptors, its brands include the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League and Toronto FC in Major League Soccer. It also owns Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

It adds to a chaotic time in golf. The Sports Network in Canada first reported Pelley’s departure on Wednesday, the same day the R&A announced Martin Slumbers would retire as CEO at the end of the year.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan is leading the negotiations on a deal that would create a commercial entity with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, all while trying to regain trust with his players from the surprise announcement on June 6 that it was working with the group backing the rival LIV Golf.

Pelley negotiated a $5 billion rights contract to the NHL for Rogers Media before leaving in 2015 to take over the European tour. He brought creativity, beyond his blue-framed glasses, to a tour that didn’t have nearly the resources of the PGA Tour.

He struck a deal with Dubai-based DP World in 2021 to rename the circuit to the DP World Tour. He introduced one tournament using a shot clock, another involving six-hole competitions. Neither stuck, but there was a willingness to try to modernize golf.

Pelley also chose to align the European tour with the PGA Tour in a strategic alliance that now includes co-sanctioned events for both members — the Scottish Open in the UK and two tournaments on the PGA Tour held opposite stronger events.

Ten leading players from the European tour’s Race to Dubai earned PGA Tour cards this year through part of that alliance.

Pelley introduced the Rolex Series, high-profile events with the biggest purses that attracted some of the best fields on the European tour. The European tour also had the first tournament sanctioned with the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA Tour.

“When I came over from Canada back in 2015, I set out to create a culture of innovation and to grow our prize funds and our tour for our members by ensuring that we appealed to new, younger and more diverse audiences,” Pelley said. “We have done that and so much more because our players, staff, partners, broadcasters and fans have all fundamentally bought into that philosophy that we are in the entertainment industry.”