My guest today, Greg Norman, makes a second visit to the show. He was the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world for over six years. And he’s also been extremely successful in business. He’s designed over 100 golf courses and he’s built a global clothing brand and wine business. But it’s his role as C.E.O. and commissioner of the renegade LIV Golf Tour that has made him perhaps the most controversial figure in the history of golf.
NORMAN: Some of my dear friends don’t even speak to me because of this. That’s their choice. If you don’t want to talk to me again, happy days.
Welcome to People I (Mostly) Admire, with Steve Levitt.
The LIV Golf Tour is viewed by many as an existential threat to golf. If you’re not a golf fan, it’s probably hard to understand why everyone is so upset. But trust me, emotions are running extremely high. While there’s been immense coverage of the controversy, there has been remarkably little discussion of the economics of the situation. Should we think of the existing PGA Tour as a monopoly? Is there a reason to think that competition is beneficial in this setting or destructive? LIV Golf has been throwing around enormous amounts of money. Is that actually consistent with its stated goal of being profitable? Those are the kinds of questions I want to talk about today with Greg Norman.
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LEVITT: Greg, what a pleasure to get to talk again. We last spoke a couple years ago, and at that time LIV Golf, the new golf tour that you’ve been heading up, didn’t even exist. And how quickly things have changed. LIV Golf has set the golf world on fire. Arguably, it’s the biggest thing to happen to golf in decades. And I suspect when you signed up, you knew exactly what you were getting into.
NORMAN: Ah, 100 percent. And it is the biggest thing to ever happen to the game of golf in over 53 years. And when you think back over time, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and a few others broke away from the P.G.A. of America to start the P.G.A. Tour. Why did they do that? They do it as players, right? For their independent rights — to compete. So this is no different than what we’re doing today. We’re just giving more competition. We’re getting additional pathways for players to go play. They’re independent contractors. We’ve created probably some generational wealth, for some of these players. So at the end of the day, we just identified virgin space. We are starting a franchise model in golf that’s never ever been thought of before, let alone done. And why has this been possible? If you look across all sports, around the globe sports have become an asset class. And private equity and equity has been invested into many of these sports. So what happened with golf? We had an investor who wanted to come in and unlock this virgin space. So it’s the first time in golf that it’s had an injection of close to $2-plus billion committed to it to create this new competition, create this new format, create a new fandom, create new excitement for the people who come to our golf tournaments, and reach down to a new audience.
LEVITT: So for people who haven’t been paying attention, let me try to give a little bit of background. So with financial backing from the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, LIV Golf launched in October 2021 with you as C.E.O. And since then, roughly 70 players have signed on to be part of the LIV Tour, including many of the biggest names and best players in the sport. You held eight tournaments in your first season, and between prize money and signing bonuses, it’s rumored that LIV has transferred $1 billion or more to the players in the very first year, and that’s more than twice as much as the P.G.A. Tour, which has five times as many events and many more golfers per event. And while the generous payouts made your golfers very happy, it made a whole lot of other people really unhappy. It made the executives who run the major golf tours very unhappy, and it also, interestingly, seems to have made most of the mainstream golf media angry. And it certainly made vocal enemies of some of the most famous golfers who chose not to join, people like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. So before we start dissecting the many fascinating issues at play here, I just want to ask whether you think my quick description of things was accurate?
NORMAN: Yeah, it was accurate. A true depiction of the startup model that we’ve had. Yes, we’ve gone and ruffled a few feathers. But we ruffled the feathers of a monopolist. A monopolist who basically controlled the sport for 53 years. I tried to make a bit of a change back in ’93, ’94 with the world tour and again ran into the same headwinds back then as what we’re running into now. So they don’t like change. They don’t like competition. To see what’s happened today on the P.G.A. Tour, since LIV came onto the scene, a massive amount of capital was injected back into the players on, on the P.G.A. Tour. So, be honest with you, the players on the P.G.A. Tour should be giving a standing ovation to LIV, the league, and the players for stimulating this new injection of money.
LEVITT: Okay. So I want to come back to that, because I do think the issues of monopoly are the most interesting ones to talk about. But before we even go there, let’s just be completely clear that you’re obviously not an unbiased observer to all this. You are literally at the center of the firestorm. And this is a very unusual conversation for my podcast. So mostly I talk to academics, to authors. There just isn’t that much controversy, typically, in the interviews that I do. And let’s also acknowledge that there’s no one here from the other side. And I’ll try to call B.S. on you if something sounds really wrong to me, but I’m not an insider to this. And I can predict with near 100-percent certainty that people on the other side of the issue will be disappointed by my lack of effectiveness in representing their positions. Okay? But one thing that I’ve learned, you’ve probably dealt with a lot more controversy than I have, but in my own little world of academics, I’ve touched on some really controversial issues like the link between abortion and crime, and done a bunch of research on race and on campaign spending not mattering. Things that have gotten people very upset, that have been very divisive. And one thing that I’ve found in my own experience is that it’s really helpful in situations like these to be very explicit about whether the statements you’re making are facts or opinions. Because I think facts aren’t divisive. Facts are things that everyone should agree on. So let’s start with a fact which has led some people to form negative opinions about LIV Golf, which is that the enterprise is funded by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund known as the Public Investment Fund, which is closely tied to Mohammed bin Salman, or M.B.S. as he’s often called. And M.B.S. has of course been linked to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And more generally, groups like Amnesty International have expressed concerns about human rights in Saudi Arabia. Are you surprised by the fact that the Saudi involvement has been such a lightning rod?
NORMAN: Yes and no to some degree, but do the people really understand the facts of the P.I.F. and what they’ve invested in the United States? Maybe not. The facts are the P.I.F. Invested in Boeing, so if you’ve ever been on a commercial flight somewhere on a Boeing aircraft, the P.I.F. has invested in that. The fact, have you ever bought a ticket to a Live Nation show? The P.I.F. invests into that. Fact: If you ever played E.A. Sports, P.I.F. has invested in that. Have you ever used Facebook? P.I.F. has invested in that.
LEVITT: You left Uber out. The Public Investment Fund has put a lot more money into Uber than they put into LIV Golf.
NORMAN: Exactly. So when you look at the history and fact, right, that the, P.I.F. has invested in other sports as well, too, and they’ll continue to invest in sport because sports, like I mentioned to you before, sports is now looked on as an asset class. Invest to get an R.O.I. They do their homework. They understand the market, where they want to invest. Whether it’s direct or indirect, they want a return on their investment. So when people come down on Saudi Arabia or the P.I.F. for investing into sport, I also flip it around, Steven. The P.G.A. Tour has something like 23 sponsors that do $40 billion of business into Saudi Arabia. And then why is it okay for the U.S. government to do a $3 billion deal selling patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia? There is just an incredible relationship that takes place with investment dollars that go around the world. Golf is no different. And from a LIV Golf investment standpoint, the value that golf has produced around the world, globally, has just been incredible; from education to investment to hospitality, to agronomics, to health and wellness. You can go down the list.
LEVITT: I actually have a theory about why Saudi funding of LIV upsets people, whereas they’re less bothered by Saudi investments in U.S. companies. When the Saudis invest in companies, they do it on equal footing with everyone else. They pay the same price for a share, and they gain or lose in lockstep with the other investors. It feels fair. But with LIV coming in and offering huge signing bonuses and big prize money, I think it feels to some people — let me be totally clear, I’m expressing an opinion here and not even my own opinion — it feels unfair to some people. The Saudis come in and they throw around impossible amounts of money, and the poor P.G.A. Tour can’t compete against that. The Saudis are willing to spend billions. They’ll stop at nothing to destroy this wonderful American institution, the P.G.A. Tour. That’s the story that I think is upsetting people. Do you have a rejoinder to that?
NORMAN: When you look at any deal structure of these independent contractors, and you mentioned two of them, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Rory McIlroy is over in the Middle East right now playing in a tournament — in the Dubai Desert Classic. Do you think he went over there for nothing? No. He got an appearance fee. He created value, and he put value on his name and his brand to get paid to go play in one event. He plays a competition. He’s competing for prize money. He’s focused on the first tee on a Thursday to Sunday is to win that tournament. So when you look at the value — now, that’s one tournament. I don’t know what he gets paid for an appearance fee, but let’s just pick $2 million. It’s a hypothetical number just for this mathematical explanation. So let’s call it $2 million. Let’s just say Rory plays 18 tournaments a year. That’s $36 million a year, basically, he would get paid to play, right? That doesn’t happen, but that’s basically what it is. So when you look at LIV and our quality of players that come on board, there is a commitment fee. We pay ’em on an annual basis, but when you break it down on a per-tournament basis, it’s not too far off of just that mathematical equation that I hypothetically put out there.
LEVITT: So I think what’s hard for people to believe is given the economics of the P.G.A. Tour, it seems very difficult for people to think that LIV Golf actually has a goal of being a profitable entity. And I hear you saying the opposite. Can you explain the pathway towards profitability?
NORMAN: It’s simple. It’s the franchise value, right? The teams will generate valuations based on top-line revenue growth.
LEVITT: So LIV is not just golf played as an individual sport. There’s also a team element in each tournament. And when you say franchise, so the idea is eventually these teams of golfers will be franchised to outsiders, and that will be the source of profits —
NORMAN: Steven, let me help you unpack this, right? So we have 12 principal players. Those 12 principal players own 25 percent of that franchise. The league owns 75 percent of it. Now that principal player is responsible for his own P&L over his team. No different than any N.F.L. team, right? They’re responsible for their own P&L — profit and loss. So he has to bring in individuals to help him manage his team. They could come from the agents or agencies that represented them over a period of time, or they could be outside third-party individuals, or he could go source these individuals to come in to work on that. So they’re going to bring in sponsorship to the team. I can tell you the excitement of my principal players of the league has been elevated exponentially because now they see long-term value of understanding how to build out this franchise value. I’ll give you another example. The I.P.L., the Indian Premier League. Cricket. Cricket, for a lot of the American listeners, the mainstay of cricket was test cricket. Five days of cricket. Incredibly boring to a lot of people. Then a gentleman came along called Kerry Packer. One of my dear friends. Rest in peace, Kerry. He sits on my right shoulder every day. But he wanted to give the cricket players of Australia this opportunity to create this wealth. Play for more money. Excite cricket. So he started this night cricket, Twenty20 cricket, and now it’s turned into the I.P.L. And where I’m going with this, Steven, is one franchise in the I.P.L. sold at the end of last year for $900 million. So where it’s gone in the last 25 years to where it is today is nothing short of extraordinary. So as we sit back from a LIV Golf perspective to see the opportunity of how this can grow out today, it’s just incredible. And another interesting fact with LIV, — our exposure time per brand on our broadcast is up over the P.G.A. Tour. So if you are a sponsor you got that much more exposure time. Why? ‘Cause we show every shot of every player, our 48 players, in the four-and-a-half, five hours they’re on the golf course.
LEVITT: One of the things you taught me in our last conversation that I didn’t realize is that your sponsors would pay you, when you were a player on the P.G.A. Tour, for every minute that you were on camera. I’d never realized that it was such a direct tie to that element.
NORMAN: We play 54 holes. Shotgun start, where every player is on the golf course at the same time, completely eliminates the fact that, weather become a factor like — in the morning, it could be beautiful; in the afternoon, it could be windy and rainy. It speeds up play because normally on a regular P.G.A. Tour event, golf starts at around 7 a.m. and finishes around 7 p.m. So that’s 12 hours of people on the golf course. With LIV, in the four-and-a-half hours, when you go there, you get to see every player that you want to see.
I’ll be right back with more of my conversation with Greg Norman.
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LEVITT: A skeptic would say past attempts to turn individual sports into team sports have not been very successful. I mean, I’m just thinking about the World Team Tennis league, which has been around since the 1970s but I don’t think has been very high-profile. And I think about college golf, which as a team sport garners almost no attention Why do you think that LIV’s team version will break free of this difficulty that has hindered individual sports being viewed as team sports?
NORMAN: I think the investment dollars that are sitting there that’s been allocated to LIV Golf investments; the investments we’re making in golf on a global basis. An interesting fact, Steven, the aging demographic of the people who watch the P.G.A. Tour is very high. It’s 67-years-old, 66-and-a-half, 67-years-old.
LEVITT: Wow. So I’m on the young side of the P.G.A. Tour watchers.
NORMAN: So you’re on the young side. (SL^laughs) And do you know what LIV did? Because of its format, because of its fan excitement, 60 percent of people who watched us in 2022 were under 45.
LEVITT: Hmm. That’s interesting, yeah.
NORMAN: So we understand the opportunity, and we completely understand the total neglect, the monopolist, like the P.G.A. Tour harboring their same tiny little box that they lived in for whatever they wanted to do and keep control of that, they just didn’t have the foresight to go out there and look where this unlocked value really sat. Am I happy for my players? Hundred percent, 1,000 percent. But I’m happier for the fans out there.
LEVITT: Okay, so I got to say, I’m still skeptical of the team side. And in particular, one of the things that surprises me is that every example I can think of where individual sports generated team-based excitement were tied to national boundaries. So you got the Olympics, the Ryder Cup in golf, the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup in tennis. I would’ve expected that you would’ve organized your LIV franchises around geography. I could imagine Americans being really excited to see who makes the American No. 1 team versus who’s relegated to the No. 2 team or the No. 3 team, and Americans being furious when the South Africans or the Swedes beat out the American team. But you didn’t do that.
NORMAN: We do have international teams. We have a South African team. Some are all over the place. I think that’s the beauty of our foresight, of our model, that we are capturing this fan base, this fandom we’re creating around the world. It’s not just specifically in one country. The N.F.L. is specific to basically the region of the United States, right? We wanted to broaden it out. Golf is a global sport, has been for a century, and it’ll continue to be that way. The Asian Tour was a sleeping giant. So one of my first initiatives as I came in is we invested $300 million into the Asian Tour to wake up this sleeping giant of this incredible pool of talent that’s sitting there. This incredible pool of corporate dollars sitting there waiting.
LEVITT: But still it surprises me, given that perspective, I’m just surprised that you didn’t more self-consciously build the franchises around geography to play up on this element. Now, certainly, there are teams — the South African team. But most of the teams — I’m just looking right now at the list — are mixed, they’re all sorts of mixed up and don’t have any really clear geography.
LEVITT: You describe the P.G.A. Tour as a monopoly, and let’s talk more about that because now we’re talking my language as an economist. And I agree with your characterization of the P.G.A. Tour as having a monopoly, especially in the American market. They were just completely dominant, and they had been for many decades, as you pointed out. And in general, economists don’t like monopolies, and neither do consumers or government regulators. And I can think of three main reasons why people don’t like monopolies. The biggest reason in general that people usually dislike monopolies is that monopolies make more profit when they restrict the quantity they supply, which allows them to charge higher prices than if there were free competition. But it’s not totally clear to me how that applies in the golf context. Do we think there are too few golf tournaments? Probably not. And I also don’t see an obvious analogy to the price being too high. Do you think, on this particular criticism of monopolies, am I missing something?
NORMAN: Yes, I think you are missing something. And that is the players, right? As a player, I can speak for myself ‘cause I was lucky enough to be No. 1 player in the world. I came from Australia. I played the Australian tour. I played the Asian Tour. I played in Japan. I played in Europe. My ultimate goal, like every player — the only place to play was the U.S. tour, ‘cause that had the biggest prize money, and it had the strongest strength of field. So if you want to become one of the best players in the world, you want to go compete against the best on a regular basis; you had no other choice. That was the only place you can go. So when you came to join the P.G.A. Tour, you had to sign the rules and regulations book. You had to sign your life away. You gave it all up to the P.G.A. Tour. You couldn’t even contest it. If you didn’t sign it, you couldn’t play. So as a player, you sit back and go, “Wow, what are my choices here?” So you give up all your rights. Is that fair as a player who’s an independent contractor — not an employee — an independent contractor who has the right, from a free-agent standpoint, to go out there and improve and do the best he possibly can?
LEVITT: So this is something that I found confusing. From the player’s perspective, you would think LIV Golf is only a good thing, whether you come to LIV Golf or don’t. So the people who came hit the pay dirt. The people who didn’t come, they’re also benefiting because the P.G.A. Tour, in responding to what LIV has done, has dramatically increased purses and done all sorts of creative things. What’s interesting is that many of the players who haven’t come to LIV have been such vocal critics. And do you think it’s because they don’t understand the economics of what’s going on, or because they have some kind of non-pecuniary motivation for not liking the change?
NORMAN: I think it’s a combination of both. No. 1, you’ve mentioned the two players, Woods and McIlroy, right? Let’s just openly use their names because you’ve already talked about them. They have never sat down — I know with me they have not; I know with none of my executives or my team — have sat down to understand what the business platform is and what the business platform can deliver to them. They just haven’t seen it. So if you don’t see it, don’t comment on it, right? Because everybody’s got an opinion. And I’ve got a great saying: “Opinions are like a******s. Everybody’s got one.” So excuse my French there, Steven. So, if you want to get in a debate with LIV, sit down across the table. Like any business transaction, as you know, Steven, in the world of business, you negotiate the best possible deal you can for yourself. To see whether you can actually work within the ecosystem. Can you see there’s actual value that I might be able to extract out of this deal that’s better for my constituents and my company? Absolutely, you should do that. And we tried to sit down with the P.G.A. Tour on more than one time, and we were flat refused. At no stage, at any moment in time, has LIV ever gone out there to try and destroy the P.G.A. Tour. We’ve always wanted to coexist. Now let’s go back to the McIlroy and Woods deal, right? So they don’t understand the facts. I won’t mention this player’s name, but he is a top player. He’s won a major championship in the last year in 2022. I’ll just put it to you that way. And he asked me to come over, to sit down, and show him what the LIV product was all about. He was willing to sit down and listen. So myself and another one of my executives went over to his house, and we sat there, and we walked him through the presentation. And he just sat there and looked at me and goes, “Wow, this is nothing like we’ve been told in the locker room.” Now, he decided not to come. I respect him wholeheartedly because he understood both sides, and he had a decision to make. He could have done whatever he wanted, and he chose to do that. Those individuals, I applaud. Those individuals to me have tremendous amount of intelligence and street smart because they wanted to learn what the truth was. What are the facts? What are my opportunities? What are my preferences? Now I’ll make a decision over here.
LEVITT: So we’ve hit on two of the criticisms of monopolies. Now, the first one is that they restrict quantity, and the second one is that they extract all the surplus from their suppliers, people like the players in this case. Okay. And a third criticism that economists make about monopolies is that the lack of market pressure makes them complacent. They don’t innovate enough. And I’m sure you would level that criticism at the P.G.A. Tour, right?
NORMAN: Well, 100 percent. Let’s just talk about the supply chain. When you think about the tour coming out there and saying, “Anybody who goes to LIV will be banned for life from the P.G.A. Tour,” are you cutting your nose off to spite your face? What about all the sponsors that you have on the P.G.A. Tour and/or the major championships who sponsor because of strength of field? How about all the broadcasters who invested all this money to broadcast, and now you’re threatening to ban these players from never coming on TV or playing at a tournament that you’ve invested in for strength of field? Okay, so they tried to shut off that supply chain. Number two thing, they tried to shut off on us were vendors. Vendors that we dealt with told us point blank: “We’ve been told we can’t deal with LIV. If we do, we’ll have no deal with the P.G.A. Tour.”
LEVITT: You’ve hit on another thing that economists have observed historically about monopolies. And that’s that they will fight, no holds barred, to maintain their monopoly. And the P.G.A. Tour, and maybe the golf establishment more generally, certainly has been following that path. You’ve described some of the examples. But the one that really stands out to me, and now I’m expressing opinion as opposed to fact, there’s something called the Official World Golf Rankings. You were No. 1 in the world for a number of years. And that organization, which has close ties to the existing tours, has steadfastly refused to give ranking points to LIV golfers. And it’s really hard to understand the justification behind that other than just trying to undermine LIV.
NORMAN: It’s called control. That’s all it is. The more the LIV players lose their ranking points, the less chance they have to play in the majors or in other tournaments around the world. It’s a decision that just baffles me because they’re hurting themselves because it’s a strength of field. The major championships, the Masters, the Open, the U.S. Open, and the P.G.A. of America, they are the four best tournaments. They must have the strongest field cause they are the four greatest tournaments in the world. So for them to not allow LIV players to play in their events is again cutting their nose off to spite their face because you’re not going to have the best strength of field. We have had four ex No. 1s in the world, and we’ve got 21 major championship winners in our field. Why would you not want that quality of talent playing in every major championship? Why would you not do that for your broadcaster, for your sponsors, for your fans who buy tickets? My gosh, it just doesn’t make logical sense, Steven.
LEVITT: I mean, it makes sense from a deterrence perspective, right? Their goal is to maintain the status quo, and they want to deter players from jumping over. What’s interesting is that they haven’t been that successful.
NORMAN: Also, their deterrent to try and stop us or their rhetoric has stirred up the D.O.J., the Department of Justice. Not us, the D.O.J. When you start throwing out, you’re going to ban players from ever playing the game of golf on the P.G.A. Tour. You start throwing this stuff around left, right, and center, or start threatening vendors and banning vendors. The D.O.J. is going to come knocking on your door going, “Hello? the P.G.A. Tour, you think you’re bulletproof because you’re golf?” No. The Department of Justice, they’ve started an investigation totally independent to our lawsuit. We have nothing to do with it from a LIV’s perspective. But that’s because of them just going out there and just being half-cocked with their attitudes and threats of bans.
You’re listening to People I (Mostly) Admire with Steve Levitt and his conversation with Greg Norman. After this short break, they’ll return to talk about the upside to monopolies.
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We tend to think about monopolies as being only bad, but in some settings, monopolies are the most efficient way of doing things. Is golf one of those settings? I’d like to talk about that. And also about Greg Norman’s failed attempt to create a rival tour 25 years ago, and the personal vindication he must feel on getting a second chance to challenge the PGA Tour.
LEVITT: We’ve been talking about monopolies as being bad, but there is one economic setting in which a monopoly is good, and that’s a setting that economists call a natural monopoly. So say you want to build an electrical grid to deliver power. It’s expensive to build, and it might be inefficient to build two parallel electrical grids. So in that situation, a monopoly is a natural outcome. And I think there are actually some parallels in sports because people value seeing the best players compete against the other best players. So in that sense, having two leagues can be inefficient, like having two separate electrical grids. So some would say it was bad for hockey when the World Hockey Association took talent away from the N.H.L. in the ’70s or when the U.S.F.L. did that in football in the ’80s. And I’m sure as a player, given everything I know about you, you wanted to be teeing up against the very best every time. So doesn’t it bother you that LIV might lead to a bifurcated golf world where maybe only in the four majors, or not even in the four majors, you find most of the best players?
NORMAN: Well, that’s been going on for four decades. (laughs) We all come from different regions of the world. You’ve had great players from the Southern Hemisphere, Northern Hemisphere, everywhere, and at the end of the day, we scatter ourselves around and play different tours. All the best players never played consistently on the P.G.A. Tour. So the P.G.A. Tour came out in response to LIV of bifurcating their tour. Now, I don’t know the exact number, but they took, let’s just say there’s 14 events, I think it is, that became elevated events. In other words, the players got together at a tournament. Say all of us have got a band together, the best players in the world, so we all go play the same tournaments together. So the P.G.A Tour responded by saying, “We will create these elevated events where the best players on the P.G.A. Tour go to play.” So the P.G.A. Tour upped the prize money for those elevated events. The sponsors had to step up to the plate to pay for that extra prize money. Now they know they’re going to get the best players on the P.G.A. Tour at that given time. The non-elevated events are the ones now where the top players do not have to go play. So those tournaments are going to drift by the wayside. If you are a non-elevated event on the P.G.A. Tour, you imagine if you’re a sponsor? You’re going to go, “Hello, I’m never going to see the McIlroys of the world and the Schefflers of the world and the Thomases of the world.” You’re never going to see that because they’ve committed to play these tournaments over here that are elevated events. So they recognize their weakness because of what LIV delivered, right? A platform where you got the best players playing against each other week in and week out. My guys, my 48 guys, love competing with the intensity level of 48 of the best players in the world every time they tee it up. It’s not like D.J.’s playing this week, and Brooks and Phil and Cam are off on a holiday fishing somewhere. No. They’re all together. They’re playing. My gosh. It’s just crazy, the hypocrisy of what they’re doing and how they’re going about, it’s just insane.
LEVITT: So let’s go back to innovation. We talked briefly that perhaps because the P.G.A. Tour has been a monopoly, they haven’t been very innovative. But in response to LIV, there’s just been an explosion in innovation, both in terms of formats and in terms of purse sizes and all that. It must be so bittersweet for you to see the P.G.A. Tour spring into action, doing things you probably approve of, but only doing them because of a desire to destroy what you’re trying to build.
NORMAN: Yes, it is actually. The question people do ask me: What’s the hardest thing that’s happened to you since I’ve been in charge of LIV Golf Investments? And it is that. I’ve been very blessed in my life. I was lucky enough to hit a ball from point A to point B better than most, to be No. 1 in the world. I got a brand; my success is there. I feel sorry, to be honest with you, that there’s players out there who haven’t made it to the level of a very small handful of ’em. Have missed this opportunity of playing for this money that was there. There was a reserve pot of money sitting there — for what reason? I feel so sorry for these players. And I wish these journeyman players would get a voice on their own and stand up and fight for their right and ask these serious questions, like — even me as No. 1 player in the world, I was asking questions about, “Okay, why don’t we pay a per diem to the players who missed the cut on the P.G.A. Tour?” These guys fly in, they’re doing their practice rounds, they’re paying for their hotel, they’re paying caddy fees, they’re paying for their own expenses. They miss the cut, they’re out. Pay ’em a per diem, for God sake. This was going back decades, I suggested this to the P.G.A. Tour. They looked at me like I was an idiot. I wanted to wear a microphone on the golf course when I was No. 1 player in the world. And I said, “You got to understand, my fans want to hear what I have to say on the golf course. I won’t swear, I promise you. Just let my fans understand and hear. Let the T.V. viewers sit on the edge of their seat, not laying back on a couch, snoring.” Sit on your edge of your seat to hear what the No. 1 player in the world is talking to with his caddy. Or you just idle chit chat with a gallery walking down. Bring the people to you. Those are the things that I wanted to do. And, you know, they looked at me like I had three heads. But at the end of the day, I feel sorry for the masses of golfers out there who never got the chance to benefit from all this money that was sitting in the coffer somewhere that should have been used for the constituents.
LEVITT: So we talked a lot the first time you were on the show about your attempts to to build a competitor to the P.G.A. Tour 25 or 30 years ago, which made it right to the 11th hour and then got quashed. Does it feel a little bit like redemption? That, that this time you’ve really got LIV out there?
NORMAN: No. Steven, let me just put this to bed. A lot of, — lot of the media have been trying to stir this up over the last 12 months. I can tell you, on your show, categorically, with my hand on my heart, it’s got nothing to do with vindication. What I am doing is right for golf. It is right for the players. It’s right for stakeholders. It’s right for the fans who support. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do. And everything else will fall into play. I tried before. It didn’t happen. Not because of my failure. It happened because extensive lobbying in Washington, D.C. I was up in front of the F.T.C. Where the middle management of the F.T.C. highly recommended back in those days to take a look that the P.G.A. Tour had a monopoly. The P.G.A. Tour went lobbying on Capitol Hill, and a couple of senators forced the issue, and the F.T.C. didn’t investigate the P.G.A. Tour. And my whole dream fell apart. And the players who agreed to come on board, they said, “Well, so sorry.” So I had to pack my bags and go back. And what’d I do? I went back on the tour, and I played. I performed. I won. And I just walked through that door and said, “Okay, that’s done.” I was lucky enough to have that knowledge, experience, desire, and willingness to try it again.
LEVITT: You were living a fantastic life before LIV. One of the greatest golfers of all time. You then built a thriving business empire, and now you are the target of so much hatred and criticism. Now, knowing what you know now, a year into LIV, if you could go back in time, would you say it’s just not worth it?
NORMAN: No, I’m proud to be in this seat. I’m proud of what I’ve done for the game of golf. I’m proud that I’ve torn off the scab or the scar tissue of a monopolist. I’m proud of what I’ve done investing into the Asian Tour and redirecting money to a sleeping giant. I’m proud of what I’ve given the opportunity for our principal players. I’m proud of what I can do for the investor to get an R.O.I. over a period of time. I’m proud of the fact that golf diplomacy is prevailing over being a monopolist. I’m proud of the fact that we are showing that golf is a force for good. No, Steven. I would still accept the job because there’s one word I’ve mentioned to you in this entire hour period: “right.” It is the right thing to do. And you can’t run through a brick wall without getting bloody.
Is Greg Norman’s story believable? Is LIV Golf making the world a better place? Will the franchise model unlock enormous value, making the upfront investment worthwhile? On the question of LIV golf, making the world a better place, my own personal opinion is that yes, competition is good. It spurs innovation. And, ultimately, I suspect it will be a benefit to golf fans. Because not only is LIV Golf trying out all sorts of new things, but the PGA Tour is innovating. Also, like with the new Monday team night matches, slated to start in 2024. On the question of LIV Golf’s economic viability, well, there I’m a little more skeptical. I just don’t see the franchise model working, at least in its current form. In that case, I don’t think LIV will survive more than a couple years. But I’m also the one who said Amazon would never make a profit and that electric vehicles, they’d never be viable, and that Bitcoin when its price reached 10, it was definitely a bubble. Even after the crash in 2022, the price of Bitcoin is 2,000 times higher today than when I confidently declared it a bubble. So my opinion is probably worth, well, nothing. What do you think about LIV Golf now that you’ve heard Greg Norman’s side of this story? Write us at PIMA@freakonomics.com. That’s P-I-M-A@freakonomics.com. I’m curious to hear what you podcast listeners think.
LEVITT: So now is that time when we take a listener question and let me welcome my producer Morgan on to help us walk through that.
LEVEY: Hey Steve. So a listener named Cindy wrote in to ask about a sustainable economy. Cindy writes, it seems that human society defines a successful economy as one that makes a lot of money and keeps growing. But that approach seems flawed for obvious reasons. I have been wondering whether it is even possible for there to be a sustainable economy that produces goods and services, but also appropriately values human connection and fulfillment and prioritizes working with nature and protecting our soil, air, and water. What do you think, Steve?
LEVITT: Well, that is a great question, a hard question. Let me just start by saying that the link between economic growth and degradation of the planet is not as obvious as it would seem because in economic parlance caring about nature is what we call a luxury good. As societies get richer, they put more emphasis on preserving nature, on valuing nature, and on preserving their own health. So trying to cut pollution and toxins and whatnot. Of course the U.S. has a huge carbon footprint, but on other dimensions, they put a lot of effort and resources into trying to preserve nature and the environment around them. And so it’s not completely obvious that growth is directly the enemy of saving the planet.
LEVEY: So I’m a little concerned about this because this idea that, concern for the environment is a luxury good. There’s a lot of research out there that Indigenous communities and quote-unquote poorer people are actually the biggest protectors of biodiversity and the environment. So I don’t know if we can say that environmental care and conservation practices are actually a luxury good.
LEVITT: You are a thousand percent correct on that, Morgan. Indigenous communities Have lived for thousands of years in harmony with nature. And there’s not any question that if you organize society like the Indigenous societies are organized, it will be better for the planet. But at the same time, I think we’re facing this reality that we have 8 billion people on the planet and almost none of them are living that Indigenous lifestyle. And so I think there is value in tackling Cindy’s question and saying, given our market economy, given the scale of human existence right now, what can we do within our economic frameworks to try to preserve the planet better?
LEVEY: So what can we do to fulfill Cindy’s vision?
LEVITT: I think we have two tools that we can try to use. The first one is just to recognize that there is an enormous bias in a market economy against the planet, against nature because typically there are no prices placed on things like pollution and degradation of the planet. And prices are the most powerful driving force within a market economy. So we try to put prices on the things we care about and the easiest one, the leading example, is a carbon price, a carbon tax. And we’ve talked about that many times on this show that almost every economist believes that the simplest, best, and most effective way to try to combat climate change is to put a price on carbon so that people begin to internalize the cost that they’re imposing on the planet with their decisions when they’re burning fossil fuels. I think the economics of that are cut and dry. There’s just no political will to try and go ahead and do it.
LEVEY: And what’s your second thought?
LEVITT: So one thing I’ve noticed as I’ve lived in Germany over this last year is that the German views and the American views about the importance of nature are just completely different. As one example, I have seven different bins to divide my garbage into; seven different colors. I still haven’t figured what goes into what, but the idea is that the Germans take their recycling really seriously. And the other thing that’s happened to me, which is funny, occasionally I’ll sit in my car with the engine running, say if it’s cold outside and I’m waiting for one of my kids or something. And I’ve done that a thousand times in the U.S. and no one has ever said anything to me. I’ve done it 10 times in Germany and twice some random stranger has walked up to my window, banged on my window and screamed at me in German. I’ve only half understood what they’re saying, but clearly very upset that I was destroying the planet by running my car engine when I wasn’t moving. It’s just a different attitude about the role of humans in society and it’s one that people learn and that a culture can affect. So if we came to a consensus that we should value the planet earth more, I think there are ways that societies move preferences. I think smoking, attitudes towards smoking are a great example. We decided that smoking was bad 50 or 60 years ago, and there has been a massive social campaign carried out in the schools over the last 60 years to change people’s views on smoking. It’s a slow but powerful tool for changing the way our economy works. And I think we’re right in the middle of that now, but those kind of efforts I think can even in the presence of a market-driven economy, have a really big effect on people’s behaviors.
LEVEY: Great. Cindy, thanks so much for writing in. If you still have more questions, Freakonomics Radio put out a relevant episode recently. It’s an update on the episode, “Is Economic Growth the Wrong Goal?” It’s episode 429 If you have a question for us. Our email is email@example.com. That’s P-I-M-A@freakonomics.com. It’s an acronym for our show. We read every email that’s sent and we look forward to reading yours.
In two weeks, we’ll be back with a brand new episode featuring Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. You probably have an image in your mind of what a sheriff is like, but I suspect that Tom Dart will shatter every one of those preconceptions.
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People I (Mostly) Admire is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, No Stupid Questions, and Freakonomics M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was produced by Morgan Levey and mixed by Jasmin Klinger. Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. Our executive team is Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, and Stephen Dubner. Our theme music was composed by Luis Guerra. To listen ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. And now, you can also find our episodes on YouTube! If you know someone who doesn’t listen to podcasts but spends a lot of time on YouTube, tell them to go to youtube-dot-com, slash @freakonomics — that’s the “at” sign, followed by “freakonomics.” We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, that’s P-I-M-A@freakonomics.com. Thanks for listening.
LEVITT: That was way too long. I apologize.
- Greg Norman, C.E.O. and commissioner of the LIV Golf Tour; former professional golfer.
- “Is Economic Growth the Wrong Goal? (Update),” by Freakonomics Radio (2023).
- “Greg Norman & Mark Broadie: Why Golf Beats an Orgasm and Why Data Beats Everything,” by People I (Mostly) Admire (2021).