In a zoom hearing on Friday, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman vacated the January 8, 2024, trial date for LIV Golf’s antitrust case against the PGA Tour and suggested June 2024 as a new date. On the following Monday, Freeman announced May 17, 2024 as the new date, which could face additional postponements, possibly for years.
While attorneys for LIV have pushed to hold the trial as soon as possible given their claims that the PGA Tour’s alleged monopolistic practices makes competing more difficult, attorneys for LIV’s funding entity, the Public Investment Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (PIF), and PIF’s governor, Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan, have complicated the process.
Earlier this week, Freeman affirmed the ruling of U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen that authorized the PGA Tour to subpoena PIF and Al-Rumayyan, requiring they testify at depositions, and share emails and other sensitive materials.
Attorneys for PIF and Al-Rumayyan filed a notice that they intend to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, to whom they will argue the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act spares their clients from having to partake in U.S. litigation. That appeal could eventually land in the Supreme Court. Freeman noted it could take two years for the Ninth Circuit to handle the appeal, which would delay a trial date until into the second half of the 2020s.
Arguing for the PGA Tour, attorney Elliot Peters repeatedly said his client would be prejudiced by a lack of access to PIF and Al-Rumayyan, whom Peters contends is the central figure in the case.
“We know PIF controls LIV and PIF controls this litigation,” Peters told the court. “It is from PIF where we will get information.” He added that “players have assigned contractually all of their rights for tens of millions of dollars to LIV, which is in turn controlled by PIF.” He also objected to LIV claiming a separation between itself and PIF, saying it is “disingenuous” to believe when—Peters contends—PIF is in possession of “the financial forecasts … [documents on] the willingness to spend … communications with broadcasters … communications with players.”
Peters also maintained that it would be unfair for the PGA Tour to have to produce expert witness reports if they can’t question the person whom the PGA Tour says is LIV’s de facto boss: Al-Rumayyan.
For her part, Freeman was openly frustrated by the inability of the parties to resolve their disputes over discovery. She repeatedly stressed the attorneys would not receive preferential treatment merely because they represent wealthy sports clients.
“I have already bent over backwards [for these parties],” she lamented at one point. “I have too many other litigants for whom [continuing to prioritize this case] would be unfair.”
From LIV’s business standpoint, the multi-month delay in the trial date is problematic.
LIV attorney John Quinn warned that the PGA Tour’s allegedly “monopolist behavior will evade judicial scrutiny” and potentially “harm consumers’ the longer his client, an upstart league albeit one backed by billions of dollars, is denied a chance to make its case to a jury.
Another business worry for LIV Golf is whether elite golfers will wait around for the legal process to play out.
On Thursday, a UK arbitration panel found that the DP World Tour (European Tour) has the legal right to punish golfers who breach their contractual obligations to the DP World Tour to play for LIV.
During Friday’s hearing, Peters made sure to remind Judge Freeman of the arbitration decision and its relevance to his client’s case. The arbitration panel, Peters stressed, “rejected the core of the same claims that are being presented here, which is whether or not the commissioner of the European tour acted properly when he fined and banned players.”
(This story has been updated to include the new trial date.)