The Scandalous PGA Tour-LIV Golf Deal Will Likely Never Happen, Expert Argues

LIV Golf

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The plan for the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to join forces was met with instant outrage the moment it was announced Tuesday, with many critics condemning Saudi Arabia’s troubling human rights record and connections to the 9/11 terrorists. Blasting the partnership as “sportswashing” seems to have had little effect, but the entire deal may end up collapsing because of federal antitrust law.

Marc Edelman, a law professor at Baruch College, wrote a column for The Atlantic published Thursday that spells out how this could work. “The Golf Merger May Be Dead on Arrival,” read the headline.

“The logic of the deal is easy to see,” wrote Edelman, with LIV Golf putting pressure on the PGA Tour after having “poached some marquee golfers” and being “forced to pay out bigger prizes and dip deeper into its reserves,” and the two groups engaged in complex and costly litigation likely to drag on for years.

“We were competing against LIV,” said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, and so the merger would let them “take the competitor off the board, to have them exist as a partner.”

“That’s a very understandable reason to do a deal,” wrote Edelman. “In this case, it’s also most likely an illegal one.”

“The most basic principle of antitrust law is that companies with large market share can’t make agreements to avoid competing against each other,” he explained. “It is very difficult to characterize the PGA-LIV merger in any other way.”

As the professor noted, several players who joined LIV Golf filed an antitrust lawsuit last year that argued the PGA Tour lacked “any meaningful competition” before the launch of LIV Golf,” and had “used its monopoly position to extract substantially increased revenues from broadcasters and advertisers” and force players into agreeing to accept lower payments for their services.

As a result, it just isn’t credible to claim that the PGA and LIV partnership — “a single, dominant association controlling almost the entire world of professional golf” — wouldn’t be a monopoly, argued Edelman, and this was a “textbook lesson” in why the U.S. has antitrust laws.

The previous competition between the two bitter rivals had “led to a range of innovations” that offered players higher pay and employment options, increased the entertainment value for fans, and increased the bargaining power of sponsors, advertisers, and television stations because of the new choices available.

In Edelman’s view, it “seems likely” that the Department of Justice or Federal Trade Commission would sue to block the PGA-LIV deal, in no small part because the legal issues involved in the potential case are far simpler here than in many other antitrust cases:

Many antitrust cases pose tricky questions about market definition, competitive conditions, and so on. This one doesn’t. The market is easy to define: professional golf. The number of competitors that would exist post-merger is easy to specify: one. And the barriers to entry are clear: Very few would-be challengers have the backing of a $700 billion sovereign wealth fund.

Even just the prospect of having to endure the likely review and investigation by the federal antitrust enforcers could derail the deal, Edelman concluded, due to the “time, cost, and loss of privacy associated with this process.”

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Sarah Rumpf joined Mediaite in 2020 and is a Contributing Editor focusing on politics, law, and the media. A native Floridian, Sarah attended the University of Florida, graduating with a double major in Political Science and German, and earned her Juris Doctor, cum laude, from the UF College of Law. Sarah's writing has been featured at National Review, The Daily Beast, Reason, Law & Crime, Independent Journal Review, Texas Monthly, The Capitolist, Breitbart Texas, Townhall, RedState, The Orlando Sentinel, and the Austin-American Statesman, and her political commentary has led to appearances on the BBC, MSNBC, NewsNation, Fox 35 Orlando, Fox 7 Austin, The Young Turks, The Dean Obeidallah Show, and other television, radio, and podcast programs across the globe.