LIV Golf-PGA Tour antitrust fight could end in a settlement
Where does the LIV Golf vs. PGA Tour case stand, with nearly a year to go before the January 8, 2024 trial date – which could change later in 2024 as the two sides continue to be more at odds than in agreement?
Like a game of chess, every move has a purpose, but not all moves are necessarily important.
If you were lucky enough to have watched “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix, you would have learned that a game of chess has an opening, middle, and end game.
The duration of each is undefined and sometimes not really determined until months or years later.
In the current case, the endgame is far, far away, so no reason to discuss it now.
The opening game began in August last year, when 11 former PGA Tour players, led by Phil Mickelson, filed an antitrust complaint against the PGA Tour.
Filing the lawsuit was the start and since then there has been a motion for a temporary restraining order, to allow certain LIV golfers access to the FedExCup playoffs, which the court ultimately denied.
As most of the original 11 golfers dropped the suit, LIV Golf joined as part of the original suit.
At first, the PGA Tour went on the offensive and filed a counterclaim in September, which is essentially a lawsuit against LIV Golf for tortious interference with its contracts with its players.
Once the counterclaim was filed, each party sued the other. This may be when we reached the end of the early stages, fully setting up the midgame.
The past four months have been characterized by a back-and-forth or what many would call a “legal posturing” that includes motions and responses filed on discovery issues, questions about certain civil procedure rules or, in some case, enlargement of the parties.
In total, the current court docket has 240 different entries this week, with most entries spanning many pages. The material is as dry as day-old toast.
The most recent filings relate to the addition of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (“PIF”) and Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan as counter-defendants, due to their extensive control over LIV Golf, as This is demonstrated by recently produced documents that came through the discovery.
For the past two months or so, the PGA Tour has been laser-focused on PIF and Al-Rumayyan’s involvement and control over LIV Golf, and their activities even before LIV was formed that interfered with the professional golf and PGA Tour activities.
This desire to know more first appeared when some discovery documents described the involvement of the PIF and Al-Rumayyan, which included a plan called Project Wedge which was first reported by Sports Illustrated and then followed by the New York Times in a detailed report.
Ultimately, the PIF and Al-Rumayyan were considering three options to enter professional golf, with the third taking full control of the game.
Incidentally, according to Bloomberg, the PIF previously explored an offer for F1 with a price tag of $20 billion.
These discovery documents only scratch the surface of the activities of the PIF and Al-Rumayyan, so the PGA Tour requested more information, which neither the PIF nor Al-Rumayyan wanted to produce, citing jurisdictional issues and Saudi law preventing them from participating in the discovery.
This week, the PGA Tour filed a motion asking the court to allow them to amend their counterclaim and include PIF and Al-Rumayyan as defendants.
Presumably, if the court grants the motion and PIF and Al-Rumayyan become accused, they will be compelled to provide the documents the PGA Tour has sought about their activities which they believe will show that they unlawfully interfered with the PGA Tour business.
As with many other motions or filings, this motion was just another mid-game salvo, which continues until a trial – which is when the endgame begins.
A lot will happen in the next 12 months or so, including the likelihood that the trial date will be moved to April 2024, if not later.
Even District Judge Beth Labson Freeman, the judge handling the case, suggested the possibility just recently during a court hearing.
But as stated earlier, just because something is filed by either party does not mean it is of such importance that it should require our attention.
One last thing to watch out for is the possibility of PIF and/or Al-Rumayyan trying to shut this down.
Neither is interested in leaking information to the PGA Tour or, ultimately, the world.
At the same time, they would violate Saudi law as they claimed through their lawyers at White & Case, who were specifically brought in to defend the position of the PIF and Al-Rumayyan earlier this month.
Or, if they are somehow compelled by the court to participate in the discovery of either the original antitrust complaint against the PGA Tour or the counterclaim against them by the Tour, it is possible that some sort of settlement is their preferred course of action.
Neither the players nor LIV Golf have much to gain from an antitrust victory, except potentially financial reward.
It is also clear that the Tour would likely drop its counterclaim and be prepared to settle if the original complaint were dropped; again, they see no real benefit in pursuing their demands if peace was now an option.
These are all future possibilities that weren’t part of the discussion, but could certainly become an option depending on the outcome of the discovery requests and the amendment of the counterclaim to add PIF and Al-Rumayyan as defendants.