Last week, LIV Golf, the groundbreaking league that played its inaugural season in 2022, signed one of the sport’s biggest names, World No. 3 Jon Rahm. With Rahm’s announcement, the two most famous golfers from Spain are now competing at LIV, joining some of the best players from many other countries including Australia, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico, Belgium, Chile, Germany, Sweden, England, Colombia and the United States.
LIV Golf is unlike any other league in professional sports. Every other sport in the world has fans, people who follow it or those who don’t follow it and are indifferent – nobody wants any sports league to fail. LIV Golf faces a unique situation. many fans and sportswriters want him to fail. Unfortunately for these critics, the laws of innovation dictate that the league has reached a point where it has enough mass and power to fuel its inevitable growth, and nothing less than a massive force would be enough to derail its momentum. (Previously, I wrote about what LIV would need to succeed as an innovation here ).
The evolution of LIV is no different than how any other innovation or new idea has gone mainstream. follows the principles of diffusion of innovations. The theory of diffusion of innovations, one of the most well-established principles in the social sciences, is the process by which an innovation spreads over time among members of a social system (in this case, golf fans). It is represented by the well-known S-curve, where an innovation initially develops slowly as only early adopters try it, then accelerates as the majority latch onto it, and finally slows down again towards the end of its life cycle. Every innovation has gone through some variation of this S-curve.
We see evidence that LIV has reached the tipping point where the initial slow adoption of the S-curve turns into a sharp explosive growth. Only in its second season, LIV’s events are becoming increasingly popular, with Adelaide being its first event, attended by 77,000 fans from 37 countries. The LIV tournaments in Singapore, London and Spain all have positive momentum. LIV events posted on YouTube, such as the match between two of its stars, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, have garnered great interest and viewership from millions of golf fans.
Another sign that LIV is becoming more accepted is that golf publications that previously did not report LIV tournament results now publish them like all other tournaments. In two short years, fans know that the best golfers in the world no longer play on one tour. divided into two leagues. With Rahm’s signing, LIV has reached the tipping point where it’s too big to ignore and its momentum has become unstoppable.
The evolution of LIV has common features with other innovations. Some examples are below:
New ideas are rarely accepted:
Almost always, every innovation is met with doubters, naysayers and skeptics who resist change and believe that the old way was better. For example, many experts gave electric vehicles (EVs) no chance of success. They thought Tesla, the leader in EVs, was building a product for a market that didn’t exist, with an unsustainable business model and a product that wouldn’t scale. Industry “experts” had insisted that Tesla was outdated and could not compete with the existing automaker. These are some of the same criticisms leveled at LIV. Of course, as we now know, EVs have persisted and become mainstream. Every major innovation has gone through this process. The computer, iPhone and phone were all written off as failures by “experts”. Where the disruptor sees opportunity, the traditionalist sees problems.
While LIV will never have the same social impact as EVs, the PC, or the telephone, the point is that most innovations, big and small, go through the phase where a new idea is rejected or laughed at, but these innovations find a way to persevere, push forward and succeed.
Early innovations are crude, slowing adoption:
When cars were first introduced, driving a car was a complex undertaking, with repeated breakdowns, unsuitable roads, lack of fuel availability and flat tires on an almost daily basis – not to mention the learning curve required to understand how to drive it. But it quickly caught on when people started to see the value of driving a car and enough people wanted to own one.
LIV got off to a slow start with poor viewership and a complicated team structure where even the most ardent fans had trouble keeping up with individual and team matches and unfamiliar team names. Now the teams are better known, fans have a better understanding of the format and are stuck with their favorite teams. The viewing experience, which initially seemed different from traditional shows, is now welcomed by fans.
Innovations are often crude when they are first launched. Today, anyone with a new idea is encouraged to release a barely viable product and improve it over time based on user experience. As with most new things, LIV has been improving its product and fan experience, which is what helped it reach its inflection point.
Innovations often lose money initially:
It took Amazon a decade from the time it launched to its first profitable year, losing billions of dollars in investors’ money as it took a long-term view to become a dominant force in the industry. Uber lost about $31 billion before becoming profitable. With the deep pockets of venture capital, many new ventures today take a long-term view of success and aren’t afraid to lose money while getting there.
A major criticism of LIV is that it pays huge sums of money to “buy” the best golfers from other tours. For a sports league, nothing matters as much as the talent it can acquire and showcase. LIV’s big contracts may seem like an anomaly in golf, but they’re not at all unusual in high-profile sports. The best athletes in the world continue to sign huge contracts and the value of sports teams continues to soar and defy gravity indefinitely.
A truth in the sports world is that many franchises lose millions of dollars annually in operations. Owners don’t mind this because they cash out when they sell their team, as the value of sports franchises only increases. LIV franchises were worth nothing two years ago. However, they are significantly higher than they were and there is no doubt that the league and team owners will do well financially.
So while golf fans may have opinions on whether or not to support LIV Golf, the league is doing what it takes to build momentum and become a permanent force in the sport. And if the development of other innovations is any indication, it looks like LIV is well on its way to success.