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Does the PGA Tour and LIV Golf Merger Violate Antitrust Laws?


The PGA Tour (PGA) and LIV Golf (LIV) recently announced that they are merging leagues. Prior to this deal, pro-golfers had the choice between being a member of the PGA or LIV. Now, if the deal goes through, this choice is removed. This announcement came as a surprise, as the two leagues had pending litigation against each other for anticompetitive practices on the part of the PGA. Now, the merging of these two leagues raises a few interesting antitrust questions. Namely, how could the parties resolve an antitrust lawsuit, centered on allegations of an unlawful monopoly, by agreeing to form an alliance?


The PGA Tour is a premier golf league for touring professional golfers. The Tour is based in the United States and hosts international tournaments nearly every weekend. The PGA Tour has been influencing the world of professional golf since 1968. The LIV Golf League, however, was recently established in 2021. LIV has intentionally positioned itself to contrast PGA, stating that it is“here to modernize and supercharge the wonderful sport of golf.” LIV’s modern approach, coupled with its promise of hefty paychecks, convinced many professional golfers to switch over from PGA to LIV, such as Phil Mickelson and Brooks Koepka.

In July 2022, the Wall Street Journal reported that the DOJ was investigating the PGA’s suspension of players who competed in LIV tournaments, as well as the PGA’s bylaws that prevented players from competing in non-PGA tournaments. Eleven of these suspended golfers initiated a lawsuit, alleging that the PGA was “using its power to stifle competition and punish defectors.” Shortly thereafter, LIV became a plaintiff to the suit, and most of the golfers dropped out as parties to the case.

This legal battle between PGA and LIV has continued from August 2022 up until the announcement of the deal. In addition to the players’ original claims, LIV alleged that the PGA violated state and federal antitrust statutes. The PGA counterclaimed against LIV for “tortious interference with contractual relations.” Surprisingly, amid this controversy, the two leagues announced their merger.

The Deal

Currently, the details of the deal are not entirely clear. The leagues announced that they will be creating a new entity and combining their assets; however, the name of this new entity is unknown. PGA and LIV have agreed to a few key points, such as “a nondisparagement agreement and a pledge to dismiss acrimonious litigation.” Beyond this, the details of the deal, namely how they plan to comply with federal and state antitrust laws, remain unclear.

What Are Antitrust Laws and How Are They Enforced?

Concerns surrounding this merger were heightened after Jay Monahan, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, stated that a motivator for the deal was to “take the competitor off of the board.” Antitrust laws are established to “prohibit anticompetitive conduct and mergers that deprive American consumers, taxpayers, and workers of the benefits of competition.” Most relevant to the PGA and LIV proposed merger is the Clayton Act, which prohibits mergers “whose effect may be to substantially lessen competition.” Antitrust laws, such as the Clayton Act, are enforced by the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.

The DOJ will certainly be watching as the details of this merger unfold, as they have been cracking down on anticompetitive moves such as this. For example, the DOJ recently blocked a proposed merger between JetBlue and Spirit Airlines, due to the concern that “the deal will lead to higher fares and fewer choices for air travelers.” The PGA and LIV deal is similarly threatening to stifle competition. If the DOJ finds that the proposed PGA and LIV merger creates a monopoly in the relevant market, courts are likely to hold that it is in violation of the Clayton Act.

One critical question the DOJ will have to answer is “what is the relevant market?” Some argue that this deal will not substantially lessen competition because the relevant market is greater than only golf tours. Arguably, golf tours are in the broad market of live entertainment, which includes a vast array of competitive options for consumers. If the DOJ views the market this way, then there may not be serious concerns of antitrust. However, it seems unlikely that the DOJ will have this perspective. Considering that the PGA was already investigated by the DOJ for this exact issue just last year, and that the DOJ has shut down similar proposed mergers, it seems to be that the relevant market will be limited to professional golf tours.

Even though the announcement of this deal has made headlines since June, the merger is not actually guaranteed. Moreover, if the deal goes through, it might take a different form than anything that has been done before. The only thing that is certain is that professional golf is evolving, and we should keep a close watch as investigations proceed and details are revealed.

*The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Santa Clara University.


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