Tuesday afternoon four more LIV Golfers dropped out of the antitrust lawsuit originally filed against the PGA Tour back on August 3. The complaint is permanently consolidated under LIV Golf, which entered the suit amended complaint filed August 26 and is now one of four remaining plaintiffs, accusing the PGA Tour of strong-arming players, threatening and blacklisting third parties, and generally of orchestrating a “plan to defeat competition,” which LIV Golf says “unlawfully” harmed its “contract.” and potential business relationships.” On Wednesday, the PGA Tour answered the amended complaint and filed a counterclaim, accusing LIV Golf of tortious interference for using “significant amounts of upfront cash,” and what it characterized as “false representations,” to encourage players to break existing contracts with the PGA Tour. .
Reconciling these things with the real world can be both a little confusing and a little enlightening. It is a membership organization made up of independent entrepreneurs, and that organization operates a series of events. If its members want to skip one of those events to sit and play video games, that’s great. If those members wish to skip any of those events in order to instead participate in events operated by a competing outfit, they must first receive permission from their member organization. So far this all seems like normal and broadly fair trade shit, if a bit restrictive.
Along comes a competing outfit. This outfit offers more money to participate in its events, but it’s not so easy for its entrepreneurs to skip events—if you want the outfit’s money, you have to participate. everyone its events, many of which conflict with the events of the member organization from which it hopes to recruit players. It is, in that sense, more restrictive and less comfortable with competition, but it also compensates workers better for their participation. So players go to the member organization and ask permission to skip some of its events to play in the competing outfit’s events. The member organization exercises its prerogative and refuses to grant permission. This is a little thick but is still well within the bounds of what most people would consider normal commercial shit. It would be detrimental to the member organization’s interests for their members to join an exclusivity arrangement with a competing outfit that would require these members to skip an as yet undetermined number of scheduled events per year. And anyway existing contracts give the member organization the right to withhold permission from members to participate in competing events, and that’s what they did. It becomes slightly skin-tight, but is still broadly normal.
Some of these players feel that the money and terms with the competing outfit are too attractive to pass up, and decide that with or without permission from their member organization, they will play in the competing events. These people are independent contractors, this kind of decision seems well within their rights. The member organization decides that this is a violation of membership terms, and suspends the memberships of those players. I double check the normal-o-meter here and still get a positive reading. Everyone is fine now. Normal as hell.
Now, please forget for a moment that 11 of these players turned around and sued the member organizationand forget that the competing suit joined the trial and accused the member organization of clamping down on its business. Also, uh, please forget for the time being that the competing outfit is wholly owned and operated by a violent and oppressive monarchy that less than five years ago ambushed and murdered a journalist and dismembered his corpse, because he criticized said monarchy. A new outfit came along and offered attractive conditions to independent contractors, and those contractors decided that those conditions were worth giving up existing arrangements, and as a result the organization with which they made those arrangements decided to boot them out of their ranks. Where this might cease to be normal would be the moment when the member organization drags the competing outfit into court and seeks damages and relief for the heinous crime of … offering more attractive terms to independent contractors, for professional services.
Restrictions on the movement of workers sucks, categorically. But there is a difference in both degree and kind between terminating a relationship with a worker to side with a competitor and suing that competitor for having a business model that is more attractive to a segment of your workforce, and that is not built to be maximized. in accordance with your product. Both moves are hostile to competition and to workers, but the latter is, like, formally anti-competitive. Embedded in the PGA Tour’s counterclaim is an argument in support of LIV Golf’s antitrust complaint: It is the PGA Tour’s position that offering favorable engagements to independent contractors in a manner that frustrates its existing business is a legally permissible tort. The PGA Tour can credibly defend itself against antitrust charges when all it is doing is exercising its right to decide who becomes an active member of its organization. When the PGA Tour says it deserves compensation from a competitor that offered favorable conditions to workers, it goes a long way toward arguing the case of its critics.
Whether that’s how it shakes out in court is another matter. And then there’s the fact that LIV Golf is such a powerfully repulsive enterprise, adding religious totalitarianism, globe-trotting fossil fuel wealth, the enthusiastic embrace of MAGA fascists and murder to a hobby and profession that on its own is already extremely ethical. questionable It’s easy to think of LIV Golf as a bad guy, because it is, and therefore to think of the PGA Tour as a heroic proxy, as the two are engaged in an existential war. But Wednesday’s countersuit (embedded below) is an illuminating reminder that however this conflict ultimately shakes out, there are no good guys.