PGA Tour sues LIV Golf’s Saudi backers to force evidence discovery

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Team Captain Brooks Koepka of Smash GC and caddie Ricky Elliott shake hands on the 18th green during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational – Jeddah at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club on October 16, 2022 in King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia.
Charles Laberge | LIV Golf | Getty Images

The PGA Tour has filed a lawsuit against LIV Golf backers, the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, an entity controlled by the Saudi crown prince, in an effort to force evidence discovery in ongoing legal battles.

The deep-pocketed fund has lured multiple high-profile players, including Phil Mickelson, from the tour after which it banned the players from competing in its events. The battle for talent has led to several lawsuits, lobbed in both directions, and disputes around evidence discovery.

The PGA Tour is asking a federal judge to compel the fund’s governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, to be deposed and produce documents related to the league. LIV’s lawyers initially agreed to cooperate with the discovery, but later reversed course and objected, claiming the league isn’t required to comply with the requests because it’s not a U.S. citizen, according to a person familiar with the legal dealings.

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Representatives for LIV and for the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund didn’t immediately return requests for comment from CNBC.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, is a continuation of a series of antitrust claims between the two organizations. LIV Golf sued the tour alleging anti-competitive practices for banning its players, and the tour recently countersued LIV Golf, claiming the upstart league was itself stifling competition.

Critics have accused the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund of “sportswashing” by using the league to distract from the kingdom’s history of human rights violations. The league reportedly offered golf legend Tiger Woods $800 million to join, a proposition he reportedly turned down.

LIV Golf doesn’t yet air its matches on a major network. Golfweek reported that the Saudi-backed tour, with the help of the fund and one of its beneficiaries, Jared Kushner, was planning to pay Fox Sports to broadcast its 2023 season. Typically, channels pay leagues for the right to air competitions, not the other way around.

“Recent reports about media rights have been incomplete and inaccurate,” Jonathan Grella, LIV Golf chief communications officer, told CNBC in response to the Golfweek report. “LIV Golf is just beginning its process and is in active discussions with several companies about broadcasting the LIV Golf League. We caution that no one should draw any conclusions about potential media rights given that we are still in the middle of negotiations with several outlets.”

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has taken to Washington, D.C., to lobby against LIV Golf, and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman, a former PGA Tour star, made his own visit to Capitol Hill in mid-September to “educate members on LIV’s business model and counter the Tour’s anti-competitive efforts.”

The LIV Golf championship will take place starting Oct. 28 at the Trump National Doral Golf Club in Miami.

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