This weekend I’ll enjoy watching The Honda Classic, a PGA tour event played in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Some of my favorite players will be out there including Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner. Along side those players’ every step will be their trusted caddies – carrying clubs, suggesting strategy and searching for errant balls.  Like other tournaments, while the players will be wearing golf apparel from their sponsor, caddies will be wearing a bib over their clothes that largely display corporate logos and insignias, here “The Honda Classic” logo.

Caddies had been at odds with the Tour for the last several years over what they perceive as poor treatment. In this instance, are they human billboards? Perhaps. Caddies work directly for their players, but separate contracting with the Tour requires that during broadcasts they must wear uniforms and identification badges prescribed by the tournament and the Tour. Are caddies compensated for wearing the bibs? No.

In February 2015, dissatisfaction with this state of affairs led many caddies to file a class action lawsuit against the PGA tour, alleging contract, antitrust and intellectual property claims. See Hicks v. PGA Tour complaint. Lawyers for these caddies estimate that the value of this advertising is $50 million per year.

On February 9, 2016, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria dismissed the caddie’s lawsuit with prejudice. Central to his reasoning was a portion of the Caddie’s complaint that said “the PGA Tour has required caddies to wear bibs for decades.” Meaning, the bibs have been a primary part of the ‘uniform’ that the Tour requires caddies to wear and consequentially under a reasonable interpretation of the contract, caddies have voluntarily agreed to wear them.

Although this same lawsuit cannot be refilled, it can be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This is the same federal appeals court that ruled in favor of O’Bannon, a somewhat similar case involving that NCAA’s use of Division I men’s basketball and football players’ likeness.

In addition, Chhabria said:  “The caddies overall complaint about poor treatment by the Tour has merit . . . ” So, maybe the legal battle has just begun and will soon begin on other fronts.

 

Joshua Sureck

 

 

 

 

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