June 14, 2023

Wyden, Warren Call on Justice Department to Closely Scrutinize PGA Tour-LIV-Saudi Investment Fund Golf Merger for Potential Antitrust Violations

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said today they have sent a letter to the Justice Department, raising serious concerns about the deal announced between the PGA Tour and the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund to consolidate global golf-related business, including LIV Golf.

In their letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Jonathan Kanter, Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, Wyden and Warren call on DOJ's Antitrust Division to closely scrutinize the PGA-LIV deal and oppose it if it would reduce competition in violation of antitrust law. 

“The PGA-LIV deal would make a U.S. organization complicit – and force American golfers and their fans to join this complicity – in the Saudi regime’s latest attempt to sanitize its abuses by pouring funds into major sports leagues… Significantly, the deal appears to have a substantial adverse impact on competition, violating several provisions of U.S. antitrust law, regardless of whether the deal is structured as a merger or some sort of joint venture,” Wyden and Warren wrote.

The senators note that the proposed PGA-LIV deal would allow Saudi Arabia to “sportswash” its egregious human rights record which includes routinely harassing and harshly prosecuting individuals for peaceful expression or association; executing individuals (including children) for robbery and drug-related crimes after rigged trials, increasingly including through mass executions;  and directing the extrajudicial murder of U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi.  

The senators raise serious concerns that the proposed PGA-LIV deal would violate several provisions of antitrust law: 

  • Section 1 of the Sherman Act criminalizes actions “in restraint of trade or commerce,” including collusive schemes like price fixing, wage fixing, and market allocation. The PGA-LIV deal, as described in the June 6 announcement, would be a clear violation if it is a joint venture, giving PGA Tour and PIF control over all significant aspects of U.S. commercial golf operations, including contracts with U.S. golfers and their opportunities to compete, television rights, cost of attendance to elite golf events, and merchandise. 
  • Under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, it is also illegal “to monopolize any part of … trade or commerce.” The point of the deal is, as PGA Tour has stated, “the removal of rivalry,” “to take the competitor off the board,” and “to be able to control the direction going forward.” These public statements unmistakably communicate the PGA Tour’s intentions, which are to monopolize professional golf operations in the U.S. and around the world. 
  • Section 7 of the Clayton Act prohibits mergers and acquisitions that may “substantially lessen competition” or “create a monopoly.” The PGA Tour brazenly announced the deal as an agreement to “merge commercial operations under common ownership.” 

“This deal deserves serious and urgent attention by U.S. antitrust agencies,” the senators wrote. “We urge the DOJ and the Antitrust Division to allocate sufficient resources to closely scrutinize the proposed deal including a careful review of the overt monopolistic goals of the parties and the potential consequences of the PGA Tour and LIV’s complete control over professional golf in the United States.” 

The entire letter is here.