On the heels of a decision allowing the PGA Tour to subpoena the Public Investment Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (PIF) and its governor, Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan, a federal district court in California on Thursday granted the tour’s motion to add PIF and Al-Rumayyan as defendants through a new counterclaim.
The move expands the scope of a litigation that has grown since last August, when a group of LIV golfers sued the PGA Tour, arguing it is an illegal monopsony by possessing too much control over where elite pro golfers can sell their services. The PGA Tour denied the allegation and countersued LIV for tortious interference with player contracts.
As the PGA Tour sees it, LIV unlawfully induced golfers to break their PGA Tour contracts by dangling much higher pay and suggesting players could lawfully extinguish their media and scheduling obligations. According to this line of reasoning, LIV pursued PGA Tour golfers not only to jumpstart a rival league but also to “sportswash the recent history of Saudi atrocities.”
In granting the PGA Tour leave to amend its counterclaim and add PIF and Al-Rumayyan as defendants, Judge Beth Labson Freeman weighed dueling arguments.
The tour raised several reasons to justify the additions. Information recently obtained through discovery, the PGA Tour argued, indicates that PIP and Al-Rumayyan are central to the case in that they were (allegedly) involved in the interference. The PGA Tour also points out both were already subject to subpoenas as nonparties, so adding them as parties is not a major shift.
LIV saw the situation much differently. It argued that the PGA Tour’s tortious interference argument is invalid since golfers work through at-will contracts and because LIV’s moves were protected by the First Amendment. The PGA Tour, LIV further maintained, also waited to seek to expand the defendant list as a mere ruse to delay the trial, which is currently scheduled to start on Jan. 8, 2024.
Freeman sided with the PGA Tour. She reasoned that LIV is speculating when claiming that the additions of PIF and Al-Rumayyan will delay the litigation. Freeman also noted that LIV’s own conduct has contributed to the litigation schedule moving at a slower-than-anticipated pace. To that point, she wrote any delay “is not likely to outlast the delay caused by the subpoena dispute over PIF and [Al-Rumayyan] discovery and LIV’s anticipated motion seeking review of Judge [Susan] van Keulen’s order [to permit discovery].”
Freeman also regarded the PGA Tour’s tortious interference claim to be sufficient at this early stage in the litigation. She added that in arguing LIV, PIF and Al-Rumayyan allegedly induced players to breach PGA Tour provisions concerning media rights and conflicting event obligations, the PGA Tour depicts this conduct as unprotected under the First Amendment.
How well the rival legal arguments hold up to more scrutinizing legal review remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that in going after the PGA Tour, LIV must accept that PIF and Al-Rumayyan will need to answer sensitive questions under oath about the relationship between LIV and golfers and the relationship between LIV and the government of Saudi Arabia.