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LIV Golf chief says rugby next in line for Gulf funds

Mark Foster, who played professional rugby for Gloucester and now heads LIV Golf, says the sport is ripe for investment Action Images/Henry Browne via Reuters Connect
Mark Foster, who played professional rugby for Gloucester and now heads LIV Golf, says the sport is ripe for investment
  • Discussions being held with investors
  • Mark Foster sees ‘investment appetite’
  • English rugby struggling financially

Talks are taking place with sovereign wealth funds and private equity entities about potential Gulf investment in rugby, according to Mark Foster, senior vice president of finance operations at Saudi-backed LIV Golf Investments.

Foster, a former Gloucester and Exeter Chiefs professional rugby player, told The Good the Bad & the Rugby podcast that discussions have been held with investors, although he stressed there have been no conversations with Saudi’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the sovereign wealth fund which has a 90 percent stake in LIV Golf.

“Most have been with individuals, with large multinational sports groups who see the opportunity to do something different, see the potential investment appetite globally from lots of different markets,” he said, including, “other sovereign wealth funds, large PE houses with sports mandates”.

The controversial LIV Golf series was launched in June 2022. Based on 54-hole events instead of the traditional 72-hold format – (LIV is Roman numerals for 54) – with no cuts, the breakaway competition lured many of the game’s greatest players with a reduced calendar of events, team format and big prize pots.

The investment appeal has attracted interest from the banking community. In March it was reported by Reuters that JPMorgan Chase had created a new sports-focused investment banking team. Goldman Sachs launched its sports advisory unit in September last year.

Reports emerged in February about a potential £60 million ($76 million) investment by PIF in English Premiership clubs Newcastle Falcons, Leicester Tigers, Gloucester and Northampton Saints.

More recently neighbouring Qatar was credited with a $1 billion bid to host World Rugby’s newly created Nations Championship, dubbed the “Superbowl of rugby”, from 2026.

CVC Capital Partners paid £200 million for a 27 percent stake in England’s Gallagher Premiership in 2018 as part of a wider investment in rugby union that also includes the annual Six Nations tournament, which involves England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy and Wales.

Out of 97 professional rugby clubs globally, 12 have been declared bankrupt in recent years, while every team in England’s top flight competition is understood to be running at a loss, according to a March report in The Telegraph.

“I think it [investment] will happen. For me it has to happen. Rugby as it stands now without some change, it’s not the rosiest future,” said Foster.

Last year’s Rugby World Cup in France was the best attended with a cumulative attendance nationwide of more than 4 million, across nine stadia and 10 rugby villages.

It was the most talked-about rugby event ever, with 3.1 billion impressions on digital and social media and drew in a global broadcast audience of more than 800 million.

Co-host of the GBR podcast and 2003 England World Cup winner, Mike Tindall, said: “The product that the players are delivering on the field is just not backed up by the finances off the field.”

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