The aftershocks of Tuesday’s seismic announcement of the PGA Tour, LIV Tour, and DP World Tour merging into a for-profit organization hoping to launch play in 2024 are beginning to subside, but countless questions remain.
Among them: What will the merger mean for sports wagering?
“It’s very early in the moment to know exactly what’s going to happen, what formats are going to be like, how it’s going to impact golf betting,” said Kevin Lawler, PointsBet‘s head of trading. “There’s a lot of assumptions. We’re making guesses about how the future is going to look.”
Sportsbooks and trading desks alike have much to ponder in the coming months as the three tours hash out the finer points of the merger. Some elements are obvious, such as the tournament fields deepening as players from the LIV Tour — including major winners Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Cam Smith — return to the fold, playing against the rest of the world’s best. Some are unknown and will require perhaps more nimble adjustments from sportsbooks and sports bettors as the details are released.
LIV Tour wasn’t moving wagering needle
The start-up golf league that launched last year failed to get much traction in the betting space for a variety of reasons.
An obvious one was the lack of consistent television exposure. Even when events were aired, ratings were not great. In fact, the LIV Tour stopped releasing viewing figures to the public early this year as the combined average viewership of its first two events on the CW Network totaled less than 1 million.
That had a knock-on effect in the wagering market. Lawler pointed out LIV had plenty of golf competition at sportsbooks as well as on the TV screen, and many people looked elsewhere for both.
“LIV is actually quite insignificant in terms of betting handle compared to basically any of the other golf tournaments,” he said. “We cover the PGA, cover the DP European tour, cover the Seniors Tour, cover the LPGA — LIV doesn’t come near those. Clients haven’t taken to this. The PGA offerings the same week (when LIV events also take place), clients are far more interested in that. The PGA has retained their interest.”
In at least one state, PointsBet has seen a decrease in the number of golf bets made since LIV entered the mix. Illinois is the largest market in the U.S. that publishes handle and revenue broken down by sport. In that state in 2022, the Aussie-based book generated $6.6 million in total golf handle. While that number was up 13.2% compared to 2021, the volume of wagers declined 23.3% to just over 167,000. The first three months of 2023 have seen about 56,000 golf bets made in Illinois, 18.1% lower than the comparable period in 2021.
Not helping matters was the nation’s top sportsbook by handle and revenue — FanDuel — declining to offer markets on LIV Tour events.
Wait-and-see approach looks to be status quo
Nobody knows yet what the tournament schedule and format will look like when the merger is complete. While golf’s four majors will remain relatively untouched (they operate outside the PGA Tour’s jurisdictions), sportsbooks are in wait-and-see mode on everything else.
“While there are many details still to be ironed out, it’s hard to say what the long-term impact of [the merger] news will be,” BetRivers Director of Sportsbook Operations Zachary Schlouch wrote in an email to Sports Handle. “We expect to see a boost for this week’s Canadian Open, with momentum carrying into 2023’s third major, the U.S. Open.
“It’s always positive for bettors when the world’s top professionals compete on the same field (or course!) of play, and BetRivers is excited to bring the action to these world class tournaments.”
“The PGA and LIV merger will allow all the best players to compete more often across various formats,” said Matthew Wall, BetMGM’s golf trading lead, in an email. “As more details become available, BetMGM will offer markets on all approved events.”
Both FanDuel and DraftKings, which are official partners with the PGA Tour, declined to comment.
The Rory factor
LIV Golf executive insists nobody will want 'little b****' Rory McIlroy on their team https://t.co/TZm5MtPAce
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) June 9, 2023
Will sportsbooks offer exotic wagers involving Rory McIlroy? The four-time major winner has been quite vocal about his dislike of the LIV Tour, reaffirming that sentiment ahead of the Canadian Open with an emphatic, “I still hate LIV. Like, I hate LIV.” Given the possibility of the new tour incorporating LIV’s team format, imaginative trading desks could come up with some markets involving McIlroy versus those who he felt abandoned the PGA Tour.
Lawler envisions any sort of team format being similar to the Ryder Cup, which features best ball and alternate shot foursome play among its formats, though he did sound intrigued by the concept of teams comprised of ex-LIV players versus PGA Tour players. Specific to McIlroy, Lawler said he is one of three players, along with Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler, who command a notable amount of wagering action in a (mostly) post-Tiger Woods world.
“No one has ever or will ever move the needle like Tiger does,” Lawler said. “Where there’s a big three now, there was a big one. It was just Tiger’s price versus the field, and that was it. Now it’s three guys taking up the same equity in the book, or maybe Rahm or Scheffler as a slight favorite over Rory every week.
“And they’re obviously the best three guys in golf and have huge fan bases, but there’s not the mania around them there was with Tiger.”