You may recall Liv, age 8—the new kid. Last we heard, Liv was getting pushed around by Paul, Greg and Adam (“PGA” for short) because she dared to build a mini-golf course in an attempt to challenge PGA’s longstanding position as the best and only mini-golf in town.
PGA was not happy about the new competition and unilaterally announced that any kid who played with Liv would be banned from the PGA’s more reputable course.
As we ended things last time, the town kids spoke with an antitrust lawyer and ultimately forced PGA to end the boycott. We thought that would be this story’s end, but what happened next was a real shock.
Liv and PGA were unsatisfied with the resolution forced upon them by the players. They each lawyered up as Liv accused PGA of abusing its dominant position in the mini-golf world causing Liv tens of dollars in antitrust damages. Turns out, the lawyer fees started adding up fast, and PGA could not continue to the fight.
As Liv and PGA spoke privately about how to resolve their dispute, they came up with a surprising idea that (they believed) would end PGA’s legal fees and satisfy Liv’s desire for a meaningful seat at the mini-golf table that could end her “new kid” stigma: why not merge? Liv and PGA could join forces permanently, becoming a mini-golf behemoth that would end the rivalry and potentially increase profits for all.
Great solution! Everything is neatly wrapped up and most importantly, by all accounts, Liv and PGA are seemingly good friends.
Wrong! The town government hates the idea. Why should the only two competitors in the mini-golf market be allowed to team up? Liv and PGA—now referred to as PGA Plus*—couldn’t stop the lawyer-fee-bleed after all. They had to keep their antitrust lawyers on retainer to gear up for their next battle: this time, against the town.
But is it really plausible that Liv and PGA want to be BFFs, living hand-in-hand in perpetuity? Is some contingent secretly going behind closed doors encouraging the government to tank the deal?**
If the new alliance is legit, how will PGA Plus defend the merits of a merger that unquestionably eliminates all existing (and probably all possible) competition?
We’ll wait and see as events continue to unfold in this thrilling antitrust tale.
Moral of the Story: One antitrust problem can lead to another. A dominant company like PGA can raise the specter of antitrust scrutiny by engaging in unilateral anticompetitive conduct or by collaborating or combining with another horizontal firm.
In either instance, the PGA needs experienced antitrust advisors.
But don’t be misled: this is not a problem only for the PGA (monied, well known and in the news). Even much smaller companies who show dominance in much smaller markets can get unwanted antitrust attention. So, if you’re a big fish, no matter the size of your pond, get antitrust advice before making risky moves with or against a rival firm.
*Inspired by Succession’s Living Plus.
**Okay, also inspired by Succession.