After months of speculation that golfers punished by the PGA Tour for participating in LIV Golf would be pursuing antitrust lawsuits, Phil Mickelson and 10 other golfers sued the tour Monday over alleged antitrust violations. The 105-page suit filed in a federal court in San Francisco seeks an injunction that would prohibit the tour from expelling, suspending or otherwise punishing golfers from playing on Saudi-back LIV or from partnering with the European Tour and other groups to provide professional opportunities for golfers.
The complaint, signed on behalf of herself and other attorneys by attorney Rachel Brass of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, contains legal arguments previously discussed on Sporty as usual. The crux of the matter is that, as the plaintiffs see it, the tour is behaving like an illegal monopsony. A monopsony is similar to a monopoly, except it refers to a purchaser of services – in this case, the game of elite professional golfers. The tour would have too much control over where golfers can sell their services and that excessive control (allegedly) hurts economic competition.
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Brass, a veteran antitrust expert, claims the tour “used its dominance to create an arsenal of anticompetitive restrictions.” Those alleged membership rules allow the tour to deny requests from golfers to play in other leagues and limit their autonomy in taking advantage of media rights.
Brass portrays the tour as vindictive. “The Tour,” she says, “has repeatedly threatened its members with devastating consequences if they join LIV Golf.” Brass goes on to discuss the tour that puts Mickelson and other golfers on a “career-threatening ban” from playing in LIV events. She also accuses it of “organizing a group boycott” with the European Tour to “ensure that any golfer considering defying the threats posed by the Tour by playing in LIV Golf events (including Claimants) will lose their career and livelihood anywhere.” in the global golf ecosystem.”
Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has also been the target of reprimand throughout the complaint. At one point he is described as intentionally inconsistent when he has allowed golfers to participate in other tournaments. “As Commissioner Monahan has confessed,” Brass writes, “he has departed from the past practice of banning members from participating in LIV Golf events outside of North America because LIV Golf intends to compete with the Tour.”
Consumers are no better off, Brass continues, with tour rules restricting competition. Those rules serve to prevent golfers from playing in more tournaments. She claims that if the tour is allowed to maintain its market dominance “unlawfully”, “players, consumers and other stakeholders will be harmed”.
Restraining orders are usually difficult to obtain. Among other things, the golfers must establish that they would incur irreparable damage, ie damage that cannot be remedied later, not even by monetary compensation. Brass argues that there is irreparable harm in the form of the opportunity to participate in events that will not be repeated, and take advantage of professional opportunities that come with competing. She also claims that young golfers suffer developmental damage from not being able to play in tournaments where they could grow as a player.
In addition to a restraining order, the golfers are seeking a jury trial that could award monetary damages. That damages would reflect alleged damages resulting from the loss of FedEx Cup ranking points, loss of OWGR ranking points, loss of career opportunities, loss of goodwill, loss of reputational damage, loss of earning opportunities and loss of retirement benefits.
A complaint is only one side of a story. In upcoming court filings, the tour will make its own arguments. Expect it to claim that just like membership in any organization, membership in the tour comes with responsibilities and conditions. The tour will claim that golfers have the choice to play for the competition they want, and it’s not illegal to let them decide. From that lens, golfers are not so much ‘harmed’ by the tour as they are harmed by having to make decisions. The tour is also likely to urge golf fans and TV viewers to enjoy the tour’s system, which has made the sport very popular, and that a court meddling with the tour could undermine consumer interest.
The other golfers in the case are Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Bryson DeChambeau, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Ian Poulter, Pat Perez, Peter Uihlein and Jason Kokrak, who recently lost an endorsement deal with a law firm due to joining LIV. .
Mickelson v. PGA Tour comes on the heels of the Justice Department launching an investigation into possible antitrust issues with LIV.
At the time of writing, the case has not yet been assigned to a judge.
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