McIlroy Raises Idea Of Players Signing Contracts To Give Sponsors Value

Rory McIlroy is offering another proposal to golf’s fractured landscape, suggesting that players need to give up their status as independent contractors unless they want to go back to competing for prize funds from 10 years ago.

“Look at other sports — they can guarantee who is playing and where,” McIlroy told The Telegraph ahead of the Dubai Invitational. “But if the media rights partners and sponsors aren’t seeing the value in putting up this level of finance, then we need to do something.

“There’s no point in asking people to pay more for the same product they’ve been getting for the last 20 or 30 years,” he said. “If you’re asking them for more, we need to give up a little bit as well. That’s just common business practice.”

Golfers for decades have been able to set their own schedules, though they are required to play a minimum number of tournaments to keep their cards on their respective tours.

“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,” McIlroy said at his news conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

McIlroy was part of the group of 23 PGA Tour players who met in Delaware in August 2022 to counter the threat of Saudi-funded LIV Golf, which has a 48-man league in which everyone is required to be at the 14 tournaments on the schedule (with exceptions for injury).

The PGA Tour model for 2023 was for players to compete in every elevated event with $20 million purses in a bid to get the top players facing off more often. McIlroy missed two such events, costing him $3 million from his $12 million Player Impact Program bonus.

PGA Tour prize money has spiked in response to LIV. There are eight $20 million signature events, not including the four majors. The Players Championship prize fund is $25 million. The two FedEx Cup playoff events are $20 million, and the FedEx Cup winner gets $25 million.

The cost of being a title sponsor also is on the rise, and Sports Business Journal recently reported that sponsors will be responsible for a greater share of the prize money.

“You can’t ask these media rights partners and sponsors for as much money as we’re asking them for and not be able to guarantee them the product they are paying for — 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,” McIlroy told The Telegraph. “But that’s the alternative, because you’ve got sponsors that are either pulling out of the PGA Tour or are considering it, because of the numbers they’re having to put out.”

Ten years ago, the biggest purse in golf was $10 million at The Players Championship. The Sony Open this week has an $8.3 million purse. In 2014, it was $5.6 million.

McIlroy was a player-director on the PGA Tour policy board until resigning in November. He attributed his decision to his time on the board — he has been the strongest voice against LIV Golf — taking too much of his time.

But he remains active in his views toward golf. McIlroy was on a “Stick to Football” podcast in the U.K. last week and softened his view on LIV Golf, saying he was too judgmental and that LIV is “part of our sport now.”

In an interview with Golf Digest in Dubai earlier this week, McIlroy said his “dream scenario” is a world tour that would include corporate America and Saudi Arabia playing key roles.

The PGA Tour is still working on finalizing its June 6 agreement with the Saudi-backers of LIV Golf and the European tour in a for-profit commercial deal. The tour also has identified a private equity group of mainly U.S. sports owners as part of the deal.

McIlroy also has mentioned the India Premier League cricket model as a way to incorporate team golf, which LIV uses.

“I’ve said what I’ve said about LIV. I still think it is a confusing product,” he told Golf Digest. “So what they need to do is lean more into the team stuff. … I could see an eight-event schedule with four events in the spring and four events in the fall.

“There is an opportunity there to do more within the bigger ecosystem.”