Let’s draw a picture for a moment. It’s two, maybe three years from now. The Saudi Arabia Golf Federation has been successful, receiving sponsorships and television deals and superstar engagements. It has expanded its leagues, professional leagues are now allowing defectors to return and – all in all, it’s a success.
Will the Saudis move on to the next tennis game?
That seems like an obvious goal if they want to continue to expand their influence in the world of sports – a highly individual, tour-based sport with an international following. Tennis is said to be even more demanding on athletes than golf – with an 11-month season, everyone outside the top must constantly compete in tournaments to keep their points in order. maintain rankings and qualify for major tournaments.
It is a lonely and very busy life, and a life that is extremely hard on the body. There are very few opportunities to sit out or rest because of the way the ATP Tour is organized. The circuit never ends – which is why, after so many golfers see the Saudi Arabia tournament’s easier schedule as one of the big draws, I can see the Public Investment Fund moving to tennis.
Honestly, one wonders why the Saudis would choose golf over tennis. The Masters attracted 9.45 million viewers in 2021 on CBS, while Wimbledon attracted 30.5 million streams that same year on BBC. However, golf attracts much higher viewership ratings in the US than the major tennis tournaments. Perhaps that’s the goal – to get US support (or at least, make the US willing to ignore their history and current situation).
But let’s say they do turn to tennis next. A smaller schedule, aging stars of the Phil Mickelson type who will gladly jump ship and promote a Saudi tennis tour at the promise of hundreds of millions of dollars to ride out the tail ends of their careers (Novak Djokovic, I’m looking at you). Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer will play the Tiger or Rory position, of course, speaking out against the split tour. The International Tennis Federation would be up in arms, I’m sure, as would the ATP folks. But if the golf tour works, who’s to say another sport won’t do the same?
They began by easing into Formula One, as they added a Saudi race into the circuit, to the concerned of both motorists and fans of the sport. The golf move is much bigger and bolder – and what if it fails? Will they try again with tennis? Or just give up completely? It all comes down to the purpose of this whole endeavor. It’s not “game development.” I think we all know that at this point. It’s to see how much sport can get through.
If this comes to fruition, don’t blame me! (If you must, blame my editor who suggested this possibility.)