LIV Golf, like all new sports leagues, it’s all about the money

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We’ve been down this road a long time ago. What LIV Golf does has its roots in the beginning of the last century, when first the American League and then the Federal League decided to challenge the National League’s baseball supremacy. The funny thing is: The weapon of choice for declaring war hasn’t changed at all.

“Money is the root of everything,” said NL president Nicholas Young as he watched a string of players and referees jump into the AL in 1901. AL survived. The Federal League did not. Sport still has a Darwinian addiction.

It was the 1960s and 1970s when rival leagues had serious runs at the facility. The ABA and its red, white, and blue ball and wide-open style targeted the NBA from 1967 onwards. The WHA faced off against the NHL from 1972. The NFL was targeted by three separate rivals between 1960 and 1986, the AFL, WFL, and USFL.

Lamar Hunt told me in 1998, “Every time a new league is formed, the first reaction is, ‘This is terrible, this is the end of the world as we know it.’ The teams and he realized: it was just a better thing. It wasn’t the devil.

Hunt was the founder of the AFL, and he and the other founding members of that league were quickly dubbed the “Stupid Club” as they even considered facing the NFL. But 62 years later, 10 of the NFL’s 32 teams have their roots in the AFL. That includes perhaps the now league’s flagship team, the Kansas City Chiefs, which Hunt owned until his death in 2006.

From left, then general manager Carl Peterson, owner Lamar Hunt, and head coach Herm Edwards speak before a game against the Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City on October 28, 2006.
From left, then general manager Carl Peterson, owner Lamar Hunt, and head coach Herm Edwards speak before a game in 2006.
G. Newman Lowrance/WireImage.com

“I’ve always said that three things are all you need to survive as a competitive league,” Hunt said. “First of all, you need a bunch of smart people to run it. Second, you need some luck; It’s a good jump here and it never hurt anyone.

He smiled.

“And have plenty of money,” he said. “This helps a lot.”

The AFL had it on their side. After Hunt lost $1 million in the league’s first year (as the Texans in Dallas, in direct competition with the NFL Cowboys), someone questioned his father, HL, mogul oil. “At this rate,” said the old man, “he’ll be in trouble in 142 years.”

LIV has cash. The guaranteed money tossed in this week prior to its first event in London made MLB’s free agent hot pan era look like a garage sale. There are strong words and grudges on both sides – a poison that goes far beyond the basic human rights issue of being in bed with the Saudis.

JC Ritchie takes his second hit on the 16th hole during the LIV Golf Invitational at the Centurion Club in St Albans, England on June 9, 2022.
JC Ritchie plays his second pitch on the 16th hole during the LIV Golf Invitational at Centurion Club.
Getty Pictures

“When we got in,” Hunt said, “we readjusted a lot of things. Not just salary. But opportunity.

Hunt’s favorite example was his own quarterback, Len Dawson, who moved from the taxi team to Canton thanks to the AFL. And Don Maynard. The ABA allowed Connie Hawkins to play while she was banned everywhere else (after being falsely accused of shaving the point). WHA gave Gordie Howe, 45, the chance to play alongside his sons Mark and Marty.

The idea that Phil Mickelson can now command nine-figure guaranteed money might not be so poetic. But LIV is following the plan closely. It always starts with money. After that, it’s up to the delivery of the product.

Twenty-four years ago, Lamar Hunt said: “Let me ask you a question: Do you think the AFL is ruining professional football?”

In twenty-four years we will want the same for LIV. And probably the same answer.