The LIV Golf tour, the breakaway circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, generated "virtually zero" revenue during its first season, its lawyers admitted in US federal court documents filed on Monday.
Attorneys for the rebel tour made the admission in a motion with the US district court for Northern California, in which LIV Golf asked US district court judge Beth Labson Freeman to deny the PGA Tour's motion for leave to add the Public Investment Fund (PIF) and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, as plaintiffs in the tour's countersuit against LIV Golf.
A trial date for January 2024 has been scheduled for the countersuit, in which the PGA Tour alleges that LIV Golf interfered with existing player contracts. However, the PGA Tour wants to delay that date because it said the PIF and Al-Rumayyan have not complied with discovery and depositions.
"Delay will equally harm LIV because the Tour continues its anticompetitive conduct while the litigation is pending," LIV Golf's lawyers wrote in the motion obtained by the Guardian. "The Tour has damaged LIV's brand, driven up its costs by hundreds of millions of dollars, and driven down revenues to virtually zero."
Attorneys for LIV Golf argue it will suffer "immeasurable" damage "[i]f the Tour is permitted to continue its anticompetitive conduct into another season beyond 2023".
LIV Golf reportedly spent more than $700m to draw some of golf's biggest names, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau, with $25m prize purses, nine-figure signing-on fees and gaudy perks such as the use of private jets.
It has also drawn fierce backlash from critics who accuse the Saudi government of using sports to distract from the kingdom's dismal human rights record, its alleged ties to the September 11 attacks, the severe repression of women's and LGBTQ+ rights and the 2018 murder of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In Monday's motion, LIV Golf's lawyers went on to accuse the PGA Tour of undermining the careers of several of the breakaway circuit's players, including Matt Jones and Peter Uihlein, who were suspended by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan for participating in LIV Golf events without releases.
"The prejudice to Plaintiffs Jones and Uihlein from delay is clear: they risk being unable to earn a living in their chosen profession during the prime of their careers," the motion stated. "Mr Jones and Mr Uihlein have no secure ability to pursue their profession in 2024. Some Player Plaintiffs are not under contract with LIV past 2023, and are banned from the PGA Tour, the European Tour, and other tours around the world. Player Plaintiffs are denied playing opportunities they had earned and need resolution on the enforceability of the Tour's Regulations, suspensions, and conduct.
"And several other golfers in LIV and other professional and collegiate golfers who are considering playing in the Asian Tour or on LIV are making decisions about their future and need clarity from the Court. Plaintiffs need relief soon and certainly no later than the current January 2024 trial."
Last month, LIV Golf announced a long-sought US television deal, revealing that the CW Network will broadcast all 14 events on its 2023 calendar.