PGA sabotaged LIV Golf TV deals, upstart Saudi league claims
A PGA Tour Inc executive illegally lobbied broadcasters not to sign streaming contracts with LIV Golf, the Saudi-backed league alleged in the latest escalation between it and the US group in an ongoing lawsuit.
In court filings, lawyers for the Saudi-backed league accused Thierry Pascal, senior vice president of international media for the PGA Tour, of working behind the scenes to prevent media companies from cutting deals with LIV. .
“Based on Tour documents and other sources, LIV believes that Mr. Pascal used illegal means to discourage many broadcasters in international markets from signing broadcast contracts with LIV and even from reporting on LIV events in their news material,” a LIV lawyers said in a court filing.
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The rival leagues have been locked in a legal dispute since last year, after several top golf stars decided to sign with LIV, including three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who said the Saudi golf series had given him and golfers satisfaction. participate “leverage” against the PGA Tour.
Last August, several players and LIV Golf sued the PGA on antitrust grounds. Then, in September, the PGA hit back with a suit against LIV, accusing it of interfering with their players’ contracts.
The new allegations come after LIV blew the viewership of rival PGA tour last month, in the first televised match between the two.
LIV Golf debuted in the United States on broadcast television in February for the season opener in Mayakoba, Mexico. The event drew an average of 286,000 people on Saturday on the CW Network and 291,000 on Sunday.
That contrasts with 1.61 million viewers on Saturday and 2.38 million on Sunday who watched the PGA’s Honda Classic over the same weekend.
‘Signed contracts cancelled’
LIV faces an uphill battle to find US broadcasters willing to show their tournaments, a major source of income and prestige for professional sports. The PGA tour has established long-term contracts with major broadcasters such as CBS, NBC, and ESPN.
LIV lawyers said Pascal conducted a discreet lobbying campaign against them, leaving little written evidence of his efforts.
“Repeatedly, after the live meeting or phone call, the broadcaster went around and informed LIV that negotiations (in one case, a signed contract) could not proceed,” LIV’s attorneys said. .
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Pascal has until April 14 to testify in London, a US magistrate judge ruled on Thursday.
The ongoing legal battle highlights the strained relationship between the Saudi- and American-backed League.
LIV sent out a mocking tweet earlier this month, accusing the PGA of copying their efforts to spice up golf tournaments. The league has broken precedent with Arabic support by allowing music to be played on some holes. It has also introduced an extended season with 14 events instead of eight and a consolidation of the number of rounds played to three out of four.
“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Congratulations to the PGA Tour. Welcome to the future,” LIV tweeted after PGA announced updates on its tournaments.
LIV is backed by Saudi Arabia’s $600bn Public Investment Fund, chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. As well as backing the league, the PIF acquired English Premier League football club Newcastle United FC in 2021, and also considered buying Formula 1 motor racing last year.
The crown prince has tried to boost the kingdom’s holdings in sports and entertainment. While he pushed through a number of social reforms, he also oversaw a crackdown on dissent. And critics have accused Saudi Arabia of “laundry sport” to cover up its human rights record.