LIV Golf Joins Antitrust Lawsuit Against PGA Tour

[1]

LIV Golf has joined a group of its players — including Major champions Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau— in an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.[2] Backed by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, the upstart series is further escalating its bitter struggle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of golf fans.[3]

In August, eleven LIV players sued the PGA Tour, challenging their suspensions imposed by the PGA Tour in June, which barred them from participating in tournament play due to their involvement in the controversial new circuit.[4] The golfers allege their Tour suspensions are part of a “carefully orchestrated plan to defeat” LIV Golf.[5]

Three golfers — Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, and Matt Jones — were also seeking a temporary restraining order to play in the lucrative FedExCup Playoffs after qualifying for the event before joining the LIV series.[6] However, two weeks ago in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge Beth Labson Freeman denied their request for a temporary restraining order ruling that Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, and Matt Jones felt “no irreparable harm” because of how much money the players made to sign and in prize money, and that PGA Tour regulations to suspend players were not unreasonable.[7]

The amended complaint was filed last Friday afternoon, again, in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.[8] Four players withdrew their names from the amended complaint including Carlos Ortiz, Abraham Ancer, Jason Kokrak, and Pat Perez.[9] Three-time PGA Tour winner and current LIV Golf professional Pat Perez, who originally joined the suit in solidarity with LIV Golf, withdrew as one of the plaintiffs, citing “no ill feelings toward the PGA Tour or any of the players.”[10] LIV Golf is now included among the remaining seven plaintiffs taking on the PGA Tour, including Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Ian Poulter, and Peter Uihelin.[11]

The amended complaint alleges the PGA Tour has used monopoly power to unfairly suspend players and squash competition in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.[12] The amended complaint claims the “Tour’s conduct serves no purpose other than to cause harm to players and foreclose the entry of the first meaningful competitive threat the Tour has faced in decades.”[13] The amended complaint argues the PGA Tour imposes restrictions that “make it risky and costly for players to affiliate with another promoter and prohibitively difficult for any would-be entrant to challenge the Tour’s monopoly.”[14]

LIV Golf argues that without a favorable ruling, its “ability to maintain a meaningful competitive presence in the markets will be destroyed.”[15] LIV Golf alleges the PGA Tour is “an entrenched monopolist with a vice-grip on professional golf.”[16] LIV Golf claims the PGA Tour’s restraints forced it to raise its costs to sign players, kept it from recruiting others due to the fear of being punished, caused it to delay its 2022 launch, and plan a smaller schedule with its Invitational Series.[17] While LIV Golf has launched its tour despite “super-competitive costs and artificially reduced access to players,” “facing headwinds of this nature is not sustainable,” according to the amended complaint.[18] LIV Golf is seeking “punitive damages for the PGA Tour’s bad faith and egregious interference with LIV Golf’s contractual and prospective business relationships.”[19]

However, LIV Golf already has signed roughly two dozen PGA Tour players and is likely to sign more once the PGA Tour’s season ends.[20] But, earlier this week, PGA commissioner Jay Monahan announced an ambitious plan to change the PGA Tour to compete with LIV Golf and prevent more talent from defecting from the Tour.[21] These changes include elevating several tournaments to $20 million purses and requiring the top players to compete in a minimum of 20 events beginning in 2023.[22]

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has leaned on its rules that state that its members are required to obtain a conflicting-event release to play overseas and that no such releases are granted for North American events. LIV Golf has five such conflicting events scheduled this year.[23] LIV Golf has already staged three tournaments so far, with the fourth set for next weekend outside Boston.[24] However, the PGA Tour has yet to grant any releases and has subsequently suspended players who compete in LIV Golf, with most of these suspensions extending through March 2024.[25]

As of now, Judge Freeman has set a summary judgment hearing for July 23, 2023, and a tentative trial date for January 8, 2024.[26]


[1] Photograph: https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2022/07/28/liv-golf-invitational-series-how-to-watch-live-stream/.

[2] https://frontofficesports.com/liv-golf-joins-player-lawsuit-against-pga-tour/

[3] Id.

[4] https://theathletic.com/3542898/2022/08/27/liv-golf-joins-lawsuit-pga-tour/. All players who were PGA Tour members and have played in an LIV event have been indefinitely suspended by the Tour. See https://www.si.com/golf/news/2022-liv-golf-added-to-antitrust-suit-against-pga-tour-two-more-players-drop-out.

[5] https://frontofficesports.com/liv-golf-joins-player-lawsuit-against-pga-tour/

[6] https://theathletic.com/3542898/2022/08/27/liv-golf-joins-lawsuit-pga-tour/

[7] https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34470437/liv-golf-joins-antitrust-lawsuit-pga-tour. LIV Golf has offered lucrative signing bonuses to players and tournaments with $25 million in prize money. See https://www.si.com/golf/news/2022-liv-golf-added-to-antitrust-suit-against-pga-tour-two-more-players-drop-out.

[8] https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34470437/liv-golf-joins-antitrust-lawsuit-pga-tour

[9] Id.

[10] https://frontofficesports.com/liv-golf-joins-player-lawsuit-against-pga-tour/

[11] https://www.si.com/golf/news/2022-liv-golf-added-to-antitrust-suit-against-pga-tour-two-more-players-drop-out

[12] https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34470437/liv-golf-joins-antitrust-lawsuit-pga-tour

[13] https://www.golfmonthly.com/news/liv-golf-joins-antitrust-lawsuit-against-pga-tour

[14] https://theathletic.com/3542898/2022/08/27/liv-golf-joins-lawsuit-pga-tour/

[15] https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34470437/liv-golf-joins-antitrust-lawsuit-pga-tour

[16] https://www.golfmonthly.com/news/liv-golf-joins-antitrust-lawsuit-against-pga-tour

[17] https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34470437/liv-golf-joins-antitrust-lawsuit-pga-tour

[18] Id.

[19] https://www.si.com/golf/news/2022-liv-golf-added-to-antitrust-suit-against-pga-tour-two-more-players-drop-out

[20] https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34470437/liv-golf-joins-antitrust-lawsuit-pga-tour. For more on LIV Golf’s recent signing of star amateur golfer David Puig, please see Charlie Desmond’s post Star Amateur Golfer chooses LIV over PGA.

[21] https://frontofficesports.com/liv-golf-joins-player-lawsuit-against-pga-tour/

[22] https://www.si.com/golf/news/2022-liv-golf-added-to-antitrust-suit-against-pga-tour-two-more-players-drop-out

[23] https://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/34470437/liv-golf-joins-antitrust-lawsuit-pga-tour

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

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