In a tremendous Friday night news dump, LIV Golf announced the departure of chief operating officer Atul Khosla.
Alan Blinder had the news for the New York Times. Unlike rankling figurehead Greg Norman, Khosla had actual real-world experience at top-level sports positions, having served six years as COO of the Chicago Fire before spending five years as a business-side executive with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Considering LIV remains without a television partner while also still being embroiled in squabbles petty, legal, and both with the PGA Tour, losing one of the few members of the LIV corporate braintrust that could be trusted to have a brain felt like it could be a bad sign for the upstart golf league.
James Corrigan threw more flammable material on that bonfire this weekend when he reported in the Telegraph that Khosla’s departure came after a heated exchange with a Saudi PIF 0fficial:
However, it has since been learned that at the concluding LIV event of this year’s eight-tournament series, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund that is bankrolling the breakaway league, gathered the executive and in a heated exchanged left the room in no doubt that greater inroads were expected.
And that, apparently, was when Kholsa decided to leave.
It’s been widely speculated (and since his departure, more or less confirmed) by many in golf media that Khosla was indeed one of the only people helping LIV maintain a veneer of respectability. It’s difficult to infer exactly what’s happening on the inside here. But having followed the story closely all year it’s become more and more apparent that the low viewership on streaming platforms, difficulty selling tickets to events, and the inability to land a traditional distribution partnership have helped expose the flaws in LIV’s entire plan.
Even just to function as a sportswashing apparatus it still has to actually attract attention. Khosla taking the brunt of the blame for this from the same Saudi official the PGA Tour has alleged in a court filing to be the hands-on leader of LIV is wild considering the factors working against him in the position. (Factors, it should be said, that shouldn’t have been a surprise to him; we don’t need to feel bad for someone joining a situation that involved working for the Saudi government to try and launch a bad product.)
That’s the real juice to this story: clearly the people in charge of the purse aren’t pleased with how the first year has unfolded. They’re also clearly stuck here; they’ve already made the splashy player acquisitions and had a year of being the New Thing In Golf. They’re not getting Tiger Woods. They’re not getting an olive branch from the Tour. They’re tied up in huge contracts to players who clearly weren’t capable of serving as a meaningful draw, and they have a format designed more to woo those same expensive players than to attract new fans.
Now the LIV people have essentially run off someone with a real sports business background after a year, deciding that it must have been his fault and not, you know, the entire business model being fundamentally flawed even before we get to how toxic the Saudi regime has become.
Good luck getting the Taco Bell guy in there now.