Saudi-backed LIV Golf claims rival PGA Tour official sabotaged TV deals: Court filing

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A PGA Tour Inc. executive unlawfully pushed broadcasters to turn their backs on potential LIV Golf streaming deals, the Saudi-backed upstart claimed in its ongoing antitrust fight with the US legacy tour.

LIV Golf, which debuted last year, secured several prominent golfers from the PGA Tour, including Phil Mickelson and Cameron Smith, with hefty sponsorship payments, touching off an acrimonious legal battle that has splintered the world of professional golf.

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LIV now claims that Thierry Pascal, senior vice president of international media for the PGA Tour International, coaxed broadcasters to snub the upstart.

“Based on Tour documents and other sources, LIV believes Mr. Pascal used illegal means to dissuade numerous broadcasters in international markets from signing broadcast contracts with LIV and even from reporting about LIV events in their news content,” LIV’s lawyers said Thursday in a court filing.

A PGA Tour spokesperson declined to comment on the claim.

LIV is trying to find broadcast partners for its tournaments and potentially gain revenue and more eyeballs. Most of the major US sports broadcasters — CBS, NBC and ESPN — have long-term contracts with the PGA Tour. It’s unlikely they would air a rival league and jeopardize that relationship. LIV also struck out with Amazon last year, Bloomberg News reported.

In January, LIV said it reached a multiyear agreement with Nexstar Media Group Inc.’s CW Network, after streaming tournaments and content on YouTube and its own website last year.

“The domestic contract it finally signed for 2023 is with a secondary network, with LIV being its first sporting event,” the tour’s lawyers said, adding that the PGA Tour “has touted LIV’s ratings to imply its product doesn’t have an engaged audience.”

A US magistrate judge on Thursday ruled that Pascal must give a deposition in London no later than April 14 after talks broke down between LIV and the PGA Tour over his testimony, initially scheduled for March 27.

Pascal made his pitches to broadcasters not to work with LIV in phone calls and in-person meetings, leaving few traces of his misconduct, LIV’s attorneys said in the filing.

“Time and again, after the live meeting or phone call, the broadcaster did an about face and informed LIV the negotiations (in one case, a signed contract) could not proceed,” LIV’s attorneys said.

LIV sued the PGA Tour last year for allegedly engaging in monopolistic behavior by using restrictive contracts intended to deprive the upstart of top golfers. The PGA Tour countersued, accusing LIV of competing unfairly by poaching players with millions of dollars and forcing them to breach their contracts.

LIV and its backer, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, are also fighting with the PGA Tour over the wealth fund and its chief being forced to provide evidence in the dispute.

The case is Jones v. PGA Tour Inc., 22-cv-04486, US District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

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