PGA Tour – Not Quite Out of the Rough Just Yet

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On Friday, October 9, 2015, attorneys for a group of professional caddies filed a motion in opposition of dismissal against the PGA Tour, citing violations of antitrust law, the Sherman Act, and the Lanham Act. The class action lawsuit, originally filed in February, centers around the issues of forced advertisement without proper remuneration and unfair trade practices, as the caddies argue the Tour obligated the plaintiffs wear bibs adorned with corporate sponsors not chosen by them at televised tournaments.

In opposition to the now second attempt by the Tour to dismiss their case, the caddies attempt to prove that relevant markets exist in televised sports which properly define definitions of areas where potential monopolists have the opportunity to deprive significant levels of business by controlling which advertisements are shown to the fans. The Tour is allowed to do this because the caddies are required to wear the bibs provided for them by the defendant at every tournament they work. Refusal to adhere to this rule would result in the caddies inability to access those tournaments, potentially losing their livelihoods, all while the Tour is gaining unfettered rights to nearly $50 million in free advertisement – as they are not required to pay the plaintiffs for televised corporate sponsorships under their employment contracts.

However, not quick to cede the argument, the caddies rely on the specific language of the contracts between the parties as well, where it is expressly written that the Tour does not own or employ the caddies’ (or the players) “likeness or clothing.” And although there are direct clauses relating to uniforms that caddies are required to wear at tournaments, no mention is made to the bibs or clothing sponsorships generally. The plaintiffs implore the court to see that requirements by the Tour over controlling what they must wear prevents them from signing endorsement deals of their own, thus violating their rights as individuals for financial earnings and restrains the market in general, and therefore the case should not be dismissed until all facts of the matter can be judicially concluded.

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