Last month, the rumors of Charles Barkley’s courtship by LIV Golf’s Chairman Greg Norman were the talk of the golf world in the leadup to the 2022 Golf Pro-Am at the Trump National Club in Bedminster, N.J. Although there seemed to be interest from both sides in a broadcast media deal, there was never a formal offer from Greg Norman and the LIV Golf Series. One of LIV Golf’s goals is to sign a major media distribution deal in the near future—the thought of Charles Barkley acting as the face of the broadcast side aligns heavily with the series’ disruptive nature. Currently, LIV Golf streams its events via Facebook, YouTube, and Bryson DeChambeau’s personal content creation team called Regency. While an unusual choice, Charles Barkley is daring, controversial, and outlandish: a perfect fit for LIV Golf’s unconventional approach and what they are attempting to do in the sports world.
For the unfamiliar reader, Charles Barkley had an illustrious career in professional basketball. He was an Olympic Gold Medalist and leading scorer of the 1992 Dream Team, and is an 11-time All-Star who spent 16 seasons as a professional in the NBA. A former MVP of the NBA in 1993, Barkley’s success on the basketball hardwood laid the foundation for his second career as a sports media personality. Barkley is one of the most famous sportspersons in the world, and his ability to transcend from athletics to entertainment at such a high level is astounding. Barkley’s exploits on the Golf Channel with experts like Hank Haney have gone viral, making him quite the attraction on Pro-am tours for celebrities. Additionally, Barkley’s larger-than-life personality has been a major factor in the success of the Emmy award-winning Turner Sports program, Inside the NBA.
Money Talks—and Charles Barkley Was Listening
From my perspective, a Barkley-LIV Golf partnership seemed like a match made in heaven. Barkley is at a point in his career where there wasn’t any real downside to working with LIV Golf—until he made his mutual interest known during a public appearance at the LIV Gold Pro-am. While interviewed at the event, Barkley mentioned that he received pushback from his current employer, Turner Sports, and his sponsors, such as Subway, Capital One, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, had expressed concerns about his association with the Saudi Arabian-based LIV Golf Series. Currently, Barkley is amid a $30 million three-year deal with Turner, and receives an additional $10 million a year from his current sponsors.
The bottom line is that LIV is offering life-changing money: the kind of money that impacts generational wealth. The deals that Barkley currently has are great, but pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars LIV Golf was potentially offering. On the morning of the Trump Pro-am event’s second day, Barkley surprisingly released a statement where he publicly declined to proceed with any opportunities with LIV Golf. While surprising, I believe Barkley may have been playing an angle that no one saw coming.
Was Barkley Using LIV As Leverage?
Barkley using the potential LIV deal as leverage is a smart play, especially if you consider the timing. Barkley is 59 years old and has publicly stated that he was considering retirement from his role as a sports broadcaster and NBA analyst. What better way to negotiate a golden parachute deal with Turner than to use the flirtation with LIV Golf as leverage?
No one could blame him for taking the chance to maximize his financial value when the market with his contemporaries has shown that the money is available. Former NFL players such as Tom Brady ($37.5 per year) with Fox Sports, Tony Romo ($18 million/year) with CBS, and Troy Aikman ($18 million/year) with ESPN are making significantly more money than Barkley. There was nothing for Barkley to lose and everything for him to gain. This could be a well-deserved payday while he sails off into the sunset of his second career.
I believe Barkley seriously considered entertaining an offer from LIV Golf, especially when you consider the hundreds of millions of dollars the league has given to Phil Michelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, and Sergio Garcia. For all we know, Barkley was able to renegotiate his deal with Turner and his sponsors, but is waiting for the right time to make the official public announcement.
Is All Money Blood Money?
On the opening day of the Trump Pro-am, Barkley—who was competing as a participant—spoke to the media about seeing nothing wrong with LIV Golf’s negative reputation regarding the ”blood money” controversy. He continued by nonchalantly addressing the public discontent about LIV Golf’s “sports washing” of the professional golf industry due to its sponsorship from the Saudi Arabian Public Trust Fund (Sovereign Wealth Fund) and their accusations of human rights violations. Barkley did not seem at all bothered by the media’s negative remarks about the Saudi Arabian Public Trust Fund’s involvement, or the protesters at the event who were against the new golf series.
In the end, only Barkley knows what truly made him pull a 180 and change direction in his flirtation with LIV Golf. His well-documented past as a compulsive gambler and forays into politics (including a 1998 Alabama Gubernatorial run) show that Barkley has not led a risk-averse life. Additionally, Barkley’s past comments about the $200+ million salaries of current NBA players overshadowed the $40 million total he made during his Hall of Fame Career. Any way you slice it, Barkley could have made the determination that this payout was the fruits of his life’s work. He has never pretended to be a role model.
LIV Golf’s Disruption
LIV Golf and the Saudi Arabian Public Trust Fund are disrupting the sports world because they can play the capitalism game better than everyone else. They are offering millions of dollars to sports superstars who are taking it, regardless of moral code. Golf is only the beginning—I foresee them making overtures into other major sports. Years from now, we will look back on this situation and wonder who could blame Barkley—or anyone, for that matter—on considering cashing in on a life-changing deal with LIV Golf.