On Wednesday, the PGA Tour went on offense in its antitrust battle with LIV Golf, while Patrick Reed filed another $750 million defamation lawsuit over what he says is illegal badmouthing regarding his decision to join LIV.
The PGA Tour filed its answer to the complaint for what is now called Matt Jones, Bryson DeChambeau and Peter Uihlein and LIV Golf v. PGA Tour. The renamed case reflects Phil Mickelson and three over LIV golfers withdrawing from the litigation on Tuesday.
The PGA Tour, which has denied any wrongdoing, offers 18 defenses. In one defense, the PGA Tour insists LIV and its golfers haven’t suffered an economic injury. Last month, Judge Beth Labson Freeman found it problematic for LIV golfers to laud LIV as offering them superior career options while simultaneously saying the PGA Tour causes them harm. Another defense is that the PGA Tour, which now competes with LIV, possesses “no probability of achieving monopoly power in the relevant market.” The PGA Tour also argues the golfers contractually agreed to follow the rules they now maintain are illegal and that some of the claims are time barred under applicable statutes of limitations.
As Sportico anticipated, the PGA Tour also maintains LIV engaged in tortious interference. LIV, the PGA Tour asserts in a counterclaim, induced golfers to break their contracts through “a campaign to pay the LIV Players astronomical sums of money.” LIV is portrayed as sparing no expense in a so-called effort to “sportswash the recent history of Saudi atrocities.”
LIV is also accused of “falsely communicating” to golfers that they had the legal right to exit PGA Tour contracts while “in the same breath . . . LIV has entered into its own agreements with the LIV Players, which impose contractual restrictions on the LIV Players more onerous in scope and duration than any of the Tour regulations they challenge.”
In response, expect LIV to maintain that the golfers made their own career decisions. LIV can also argue it enjoys a legal right to recruit players, much like any business might recruit a rival’s top workers.
The PGA Tour countersuing LIV further complicates a case that could linger in the court system. Antitrust litigation often lasts years, particularly when involving parties that, like these two golf leagues, have vast financial resources to spend on lawyers and expert witnesses who themselves eye opportunities for billable hours. The case is currently scheduled for trial on Jan. 8, 2024, but could be delayed for a number of reasons and would be subject to multiple appeals.
Meanwhile, Reed, who is a resident of both Florida and Texas according to court documents, has essentially relocated his claim that the Golf Channel and various commentators defamed him over his decision to join LIV.
Last month Reed sued the Golf Channel and Brandel Chamblee in Texas over remarks that the commentator made about Reed, among them that Reed is “purely playing for blood money.” In a motion to the Texas court on Wednesday, Reed withdrew the complaint.
Reed’s second lawsuit was filed in Florida, with the Golf Channel and Chamblee once again named defendants alongside three other commentators: Damon Hack, Benjamin Bacon and Eamon Lynch. The 96-page complaint draws attention to, among numerous remarks, Lynch referring to the “evil empire” and “Death Star” from Star Wars movies while criticizing Reed. The new lawsuit faces the same major hurdle: Defamatory statements are untrue assertions of fact while opinion commentaries are protected by the First Amendment.