Senate Democrats press for Justice Department inquiry into PGA Tour-LIV Golf merger

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(L-R) U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) speak to reporters about a corporate minimum tax plan at the U.S. Capitol October 26, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Two top Senate Democrats with a track record of scrutinizing business and antitrust activity have called for a Justice Department investigation into the merger agreement between the PGA Tour and Saudi-funded LIV Golf.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Ron Wyden of Oregon asked the Justice Department to determine whether the deal to combine the two entities’ commercial businesses violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The deal “would make a U.S. organization complicit – and force American golfers and their fans to join this complicity – in the Saudi regime’s latest attempt to sanitize its abuses by pouring funds into major sports leagues,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter Tuesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland and the DOJ’s antitrust chief, Jonathan Kanter.

“Significantly, the deal appears to have a substantial adverse impact on competition, violating several provisions of U.S. antitrust law, regardless of whether the deal is structured as a merger or some sort of joint venture,” they added.

The letter follows Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s inquiries to PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman for details on the merger. The PIF has previously stated intentions to use its influence in sports to further the Saudi government’s objectives, according to Blumenthal’s letter. (Monahan has taken a leave of absence to recover from an undisclosed medical condition.)

“We are confident that once Congress learns more about how the PGA Tour will lead this new venture, they will understand the opportunities it creates for our players, our communities, and our sport while protecting the American institution of golf,” the tour said in a statement echoing its previous response to Blumenthal’s probe.

The PGA Tour also insists the deal isn’t a merger and that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will be a minority investor.

LIV Golf and the Justice Department declined to comment.

The deal between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf would put an end to pending antitrust litigation between the two golf organizations. The two sides have agreed to merge business operations to form a larger, yet-unnamed enterprise chaired by Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. The deal immediately triggered antitrust concerns and questions about sponsorships and player compensation.

LIV Golf, which is funded by the PIF, was able to lure some of golf’s biggest stars away from the PGA Tour shortly after its founding in 2021, sparking several lawsuits between the companies.

The merger shocked LIV Golf’s critics in light of Saudi Arabia’s documented human rights abuses. Family members of 9/11 victims have protested the Saudi golf league due to the terrorists’ ties to the country. Osama Bin Laden, who planned the attack, was also born in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who controls the PIF’s purse strings, is also accused of orchestrating the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In the letter, the lawmakers pointed to the PGA Tour’s comments from a 2022 lawsuit, in which the organization said the Saudi entity is “not a rational economic actor,” and is “prepared to lose billions of dollars to leverage [U.S. golfers] and the sport of golf to ‘sportswash’ the Saudi government’s deplorable reputation for human rights abuses.”

Warren, sits on the Senate Banking Committee, while Wyden chairs the Senate Finance Committee. The DOJ should “allocate sufficient resources to closely scrutinize the proposed deal” including the potential consequences for professional golf in the U.S., the lawmakers said.

— CNBC’s Jessica Golden contributed to this article.

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