An Antitrust Conversation: LIV Golf v. PGA Tour

An Antitrust Conversation: LIV Golf v. PGA Tour
Photo by tyler hendy:

            The Brooklyn Entertainment & Sports Law Society and the Antitrust & Competition Law Association welcomed Professor Jodi Balsam and Mr. Jim Quinn for a discussion on the legal battle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour. Professor Balsam is a sports law expert who teaches sports law at Brooklyn Law School. Mr. Quinn has been practicing as a trial lawyer for the past 50 years and is recognized as one of the most influential sports antitrust attorneys.

            The conversation kicked off with an analysis of the lawsuit: who is suing, what’s the alleged harm, what type of antitrust claim, and the facts of the case. Golfers on the LIV Golf tour are suing the PGA Tour, alleging that their ban from PGA Tour events, the Official World Golf Ranking criteria, and other conduct on behalf of the PGA Tour amounts to an antitrust violation under sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act.

            Professor Balsam and Mr. Quinn then went on to analyze the alleged illegal conduct and LIV Golf’s likelihood of success in the case. First, banning LIV golfers from PGA Tour events seems permissible under antitrust rule of reason analysis. To maintain a professional golf tour and to ensure a good product for sponsors, the PGA Tour must implement eligibility requirements. The PGA Tour can argue that the ban of LIV golfers is reasonable because by participating in the LIV Golf tour, those golfers won’t be able to meet the minimum participation requirements of the PGA Tour. Next, Mr. Quinn hinted that LIV Golf may have a good argument against the Official World Golf Rankings criteria. Since many PGA Tour executives are also on the board of the Official World Golf Rankings, the criteria which prevents LIV Golf events from being eligible for ranking points could be deemed an illegal conspiracy under section 1 of the Sherman Act. In other words, by “conspiring” with the Official World Golf Rankings, the PGA Tour is imposing an anticompetitive barrier to access to the Official World Golf Rankings. However, Professor Balsam suggested that since the criteria existed before the creation of LIV Golf, the PGA Tour will have good arguments against the illegal conspiracy claim. Overall, there are valid arguments on both sides of the case, and it will be up to LIV Golf to prove that the PGA Tour’s actions are exclusionary, anticompetitive, unreasonable, and illegal under the Sherman Act.

            Lastly, Professor Balsam and Mr. Quinn drew comparisons between this case and other rival-league entry cases, and discussed the procedural aspects of a sports antitrust case. Since golfers are independent contractors and not employees of the tour, this case raises interesting issues that aren’t present in other rival-league cases, such as challenges to the NFL’s monopoly over professional football. Further, like professional tennis, professional golf tours must enforce eligibility requirements because of the importance of sponsors for events. In addition to the unique composition of professional golf tours, the relevant market is also not as clear as in other sports antitrust cases. Are the PGA Tour and LIV Golf competing in the same market given that LIV Golf events are three days and team oriented, whereas PGA Tour events are four days and individual? Because of the unique aspects of this case and the professional golf tour market, Mr. Quinn highlighted how extensive discovery will be and the wide range of people who will be subjected to discovery requests.

            The discussion offered great insight into the case, antitrust law, the uniqueness of professional golf tours in comparison to other sports, and the work of a sports antitrust attorney. We are so grateful to have had Professor Balsam and Mr. Quinn join us for a great event, and we hope everyone in attendance enjoyed!

Written by: Daniel Erber
Daniel is a 2023 J.D. Candidate at Brooklyn Law School

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