John Rahm Insights - Rob Wilson

Speaking to Genting Casino, Dr Rob Wilson, football finance expert and professor of economics at Sheffield Business School, gave his take on comments from Saudi’s sports minister that accusations of sportswashing are “shallow”

Jon Rahm to LIV will do wonders for the Saudis

They may host Super Bowl one day


Q. Jon Rahm has joined LIV Golf. What kind of commercial impact will we see on the brand?

RW - ''Jon Rahm is an increasingly iconic brand in the world of golf. He's charismatic, full of life, and he's very enthusiastic. He's easy to market, and he just happens to be a very good golfer.

I think symmetry and brand alignment are really important in this case. I think it'll work well for Rahm personally, and I think it will work wonders for the amplification of the LIV golf brand.''

Q. Is this a game changer for the Saudis?

RW - “I think the introduction of Rahm will help build the LIV brand in the way the Saudis will want - especially when you consider the players they've already secured.

“It's a sensible next step for them as they'll want personalities like his, and it makes sense that LIV has gone after these players as they start to become world leaders.''

Q. Rahm will join LIV for an estimated £450 million. Are such massive fees worth it? Do they make financial sense for the LIV brand?

RW- ''I'm not convinced that the initial commercial return will be there at that volume. We must, however, view this as an investment for a future strategy. That's what LIV Golf is trying to do.

LIV wants to build upon the Public Investment Fund and make sure that they're able to consolidate the brand and grow it further. That'll require significant investment - and that's what they've done with Jon.

“You'd expect these investments to start paying off within the next five years, with more commercial partners, increased broadcasting deals, increased attendance, and a bigger exposure of the game in general. Those things should go hand in hand with the Rahm deal.''


Q. Saudi’s sports minister recently described sports washing claims as ‘very shallow’ and defended the nation’s right to host the World Cup. What did you make of these comments? How important is it that Saudi hosts the tournament?

RW - ''I think the World Cup bid was part of Saudi's plan. You don't go from a nation that hasn't hosted any tournaments or competitions at all to suddenly hosting World Cups and World Championship boxing fights - you have to build incrementally. Legitimacy and agency must be built before you can pull off these deals.

“The growth of the Middle East's sports projects, including Saudi's, relies upon the acquisition of playing talent through hosting major events, opening up first after COVID-19, hosting UFC competitions, and attracting fans of all sports. This has culminated in a successful bid to host the World Cup - even if it was uncontested!

“That's where it gets interesting as the brand starts to increase and it begins to look at other sports. We may see short-form cricket competitions, and maybe the NFL will appear there one day. That'll be part and parcel of their brand extension.’’

Q. Are LIV Golf playing with fire with these massive deals, or are they being measured in their approach?

RW - ''LIV's strategy is certainly an expensive one, and they'll be backing it to return on those investments. It's difficult to predict how successful it'll be because the only precedent we have is the Chinese Super League. That was a five-year project that has now been significantly downsized because they weren't able to deliver the strategy they would have hoped for.

“It isn't about the initial investment - it's the ongoing contributions. The Saudi project feels different, simply because of the PIF's sheer size and the resources they have. They're heavily reliant on sports tourism, so much so that they're building major cities around it! They're also hoping to increase active travel and participation in sport.

“This is the first time we've seen a total sports system strategy, and we'll have to look back in 25 years or so to see how it's paying off. The embryonic signs are fairly positive for them.’’

Q. Do you think there's a possibility that the Saudis could host the Super Bowl?

RW - ''In time, I think the Saudis could host the Super Bowl. I do, however, think it's more realistic that they'll host regular-season games, like the ones we see at Wembley.

“Extracting the Super Bowl brand will be very expensive. There'll be a massive impact by the time zone, as most of the commercial rights sit inside the USA. It'll be incredibly difficult to move it there. It's like moving the FA Cup final to Saudi!''




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V: 1.38.0 All rights reserved. August 2021