When is a sports league actually a monopoly?
Hall-of-fame golfer Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and nine other players who defected to the Saudi-funded LIV Golf tour filed an antitrust lawsuit Wednesday against the PGA Tour over their suspensions, marking the first step in a legal fight that could define the rules of competition across professional sports circuits.
The lawsuit stems from the PGA Tour suspending some of the top names in golf from participating in its events after they competed in tournaments hosted by rival tour LIV Golf, which offered record prize money.
Six players who have competed in LIV Golf events are among the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings and would be eligible for the start of the PGA Tour’s postseason, which begins next week. But the PGA Tour’s player regulations include a “Conflicting Events” clause that prohibits its members from competing in any golf event in North America held the same week as a PGA Tour event or tournament.
“The Conflicting Events Regulation thus invests the leader of the incumbent monopolist with unbridled discretion to foreclose players from participating in any competing events,” the lawsuit states.
The last two LIV Golf events — with $25 million in prize money for 54 holes with no cut — took place in Oregon and New Jersey.
The PGA Tour, for its part, issued a statement saying that the players in question “walked away from the tour and now want back in. With the Saudi Golf League on hiatus, they’re trying to use lawyers to force their way into competition alongside our members in good standing.”
The PGA Tour suspended Mickelson in March for allegedly recruiting players to LIV Golf, the lawsuit claims. The PGA tour denied his application for reinstatement in June, because he had played in the first Saudi event held outside of London. Mickelson and the other golfers’ lawsuit called the PGA Tour a monopolistic enterprise with a “vice-grip on professional golf.” It alleges the PGA Tour wants to harm the careers of the plaintiffs because it is “threatened” by the entry of LIV Golf into the arena.
So is it a case of a clear, signed contract that was violated or is it unfair business practices leading to the creation of that contract? As always, a court will have to decide this one.
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