LIV Golf players’ antitrust lawsuit against PGA Tour could boil down to ‘predatory behavior’, legal analyst says

  • 11 LIV golfers file antitrust lawsuit against PGA Tour.
  • Legal analysts say Part LIV must prove that the PGA Tour controlled a market and engaged in anti-competitive practices to maintain control of that market.

Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and nine other LIV Golf members have filed an antitrust complaint against the PGA Tour.

The lawsuit comes after the PGA Tour suspended players who left to join LIV Golf, and kicks off a legal battle that could drag on for years.

In the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the Northern District of California, LIV golfers allege the PGA Tour engaged in anti-competitive practices while attempting to thwart LIV’s progress.

“The Tour set out to destroy competition in its infancy by doing everything in its power to lock up its members (including plaintiffs) and deny them the opportunity for genuine, sustained competition for their services,” the lawsuit alleges. .

Legal analysts told Insider that the case would come down to determining two factors: whether the PGA Tour has control of a relevant market, and whether it has used anticompetitive practices to maintain control of that market.

“When you have a regulatory body like the PGA that imposes penalties on people who go to a different competition group, that should always raise antitrust concerns,” said Martin Edel, president of Goulston & Storrs. ‘College Sports Law Practice. Initiated. “Whether or not it passes antitrust scrutiny is a whole other question.”

“Is professional golf a relevant product market? I think there are questions about that,” Edel said, noting that the PGA could argue it has competition not just in the world of golf. golf, but in the worlds of sport and entertainment.

If LIV golfers are able to prove that the PGA Tour had control of a product market, antitrust issues become relevant, in which case the Tour may have a harder time making its case.

In the lawsuit, LIV argues that the PGA Tour is deliberately foregoing the opportunity to provide fans with the best product by barring LIV players from entering its tournaments, in an effort to harm its new competition.

“Banning Complainants and other top professional golfers from its own events degrades the strength of the Tour’s terrain and diminishes the quality of the product it offers golf enthusiasts by depriving them of seeing many top golfers participate. to the events of the Tour,” the lawsuit states. “The only conceivable benefit to the Tour of degrading its own product in this way is the destruction of competition. Indeed, the Tour has conceded its purely anti-competitive goal by attacking and injuring players.”

According to Penn State law professor Stephen Ross, this could pose a problem for the PGA Tour.

“Predatory behavior is, in antitrust terms, the sacrifice of short-term profits for long-term monopoly gain,” explained Ross, executive director of the Penn State Center for the Study of Sports in Society. “The Sherman Act says you can’t downgrade your product in the short term for long-term monopoly gain.

“If the PGA Tour says, we’re going to sponsor an event, but we’re not going to let 10 of the best golfers participate, even though it would lead to more attendance and greater interest in the event if LIV golfers did participate. , why would the PGA Tour do this?”

Complicating matters further is the fact that PGA Tour golfers are independent contractors rather than outright employees.

“To me, the PGA Tour is on more uncertain grounds if you don’t buy into the narrative that the PGA is like a league and it’s perfectly reasonable to expect golfers to work exclusively for them,” he said. said Ross. “[But that’s harder to argue] when golfers aren’t real PGA Tour employees.”

While the antitrust aspect of the lawsuit could take years to resolve, three players – Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones – have also called for a “temporary restraining order” that would allow them to play in the upcoming playoffs. the FedExCup. All three players had previously qualified to play in the playoffs, which offer the biggest potential payouts of any event on the PGA Tour schedule, but were removed from competition following their suspensions due to their decision to join LIV.

In the lawsuit, the players argue that Gooch, Swafford and Jones could suffer “substantial and irreparable” harm if they were forced to miss the playoffs, as it could lead to missed opportunities to play in the majors in the future.

“I think it’s difficult for any of these players to claim that there’s a likelihood that he will be injured beyond repair because of that factor alone at this stage,” Edel said.

In a reportthe PGA Tour said it was confident in his case.

“We are preparing to protect our members and challenge this latest attempt to disrupt our tour, and you should be confident in the legal validity of our position,” the statement read. “Basically these suspended players – who are now employees of the Saudi Golf League – left the Tour and now want to come back. With the Saudi Golf League on hiatus, they are trying to use lawyers to force their way into the compete alongside our members in good standing.”

Michael C. Ford