September 22, 2020

Caddies sue PGA over endorsement policy

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GOLF: SEP 12 PGA - TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola - First RoundBy Marisa Kendall, From The Recorder

SAN FRANCISCO — A group of professional golf caddies have taken aim at the PGA Tour in a class action lawsuit claiming the organization forces them to serve as walking billboards without compensation.

The caddies say PGA Tour Inc. violated federal antitrust law by making them wear colorful bibs that display advertisements for tournament sponsors. The bibs brings in about $50 million a year, according to the complaint filed in the Northern District of California on Tuesday, but the caddies never see a penny.

“It’s essentially theft,” said the caddies’ lawyer, Eugene Egdorf of The Lanier Law Firm in Houston. “The caddies are making them millions upon tens of millions of dollars, and the PGA treats them like second-class citizens.”

A PGA Tour spokesman declined to comment Tuesday, citing company policy.

The caddies are employed as contractors by the professional golfers they serve—not by PGA Tour—but they are governed by the company’s endorsement policy. That policy allows caddies to wear and be compensated for sponsor logos on their clothing, as long as the logos are “in accordance with the standards of decorum expected of professional golf,” according to the plaintiffs lawyers. Nevertheless, the lawyers say PGA Tour has threatened to prevent plaintiffs from caddying at tournaments unless they wear the pre-approved bibs, and has asked professional golfers if they would be willing to fire caddies who refused to wear the bibs.

“Defendant constricts plaintiffs’ endorsement potential and usurps plaintiffs’ endorsement opportunities,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote.

Requiring caddies to wear the bibs not only limits their potential to make money, but it also illegally restricts the endorsement market, according to plaintiffs lawyers. Without the bibs, caddies could advertise a broader scope of products and services.

Plaintiffs also accuse PGA Tour of misappropriation of likeness, claiming the company uses their images to promote products advertised on the bibs.

The Lanier Law Firm, which represents more than 80 caddies who have signed on to the suit as plaintiffs, says the allegations stem from a larger, systemic problem inside PGA Tour. The company has created a culture that mistreats and undervalues its caddies, according to the lawyers. The caddies are denied access to necessary areas of tournament venues, are forced to use portable lavatories without running water, and are denied basic health coverage and pension plans, according to the complaint.

Egdorf said the firm is not bringing legal claims based on those problems, but mentions them in the complaint to put the antitrust and misappropriation of likeness claims in context.

“These caddies are not treated fairly as a whole,” Egdorf said. “The best financial opportunity for them to take care of themselves and their families is the money they would make from those bibs.”

Plaintiffs lawyers also say PGA Tour clearly understands the need to compensate for advertising opportunities, as the company pays caddies who opt to wear Nature Valley caps during tournaments.

“Defendant cannot reasonably deny knowing that plaintiffs expect to be paid to endorse sponsors on their other attire,” the lawyers wrote.

Plaintiffs have demanded damages, an injunction prohibiting PGA Tour from forcing caddies to wear bibs and disgorgement of the money the company has made from the allegedly illegal advertising.

IMAGE: Adam Scott and his caddy Steve Williams in the second round of the FedEx Cup – The Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia. Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire

For more on this story go to: http://www.therecorder.com/id=1202716934761/Caddies-Sue-PGA-Over-Endorsement-Policy#ixzz3QmsOf4s5

 

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