A U.S. district court judge ruled in favor of the USSF, dismissing the antitrust portion of a lawsuit brought by football promoter Relevent Sports Group over the hosting of official foreign league championship games here.
Valerie Caproni, a United States District Court judge for the Southern District of New York, also ruled that Relevent can bring her claims of tort interference in business relationships to an arbitrator.
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Relevent has hosted friendlies involving foreign clubs in the past and is the host of the International Champions Cup, a pre-season tournament involving clubs from around the world. Relevent has attempted to expand its business by seeking to host Spanish La Liga league matches as well as Ecuadorian La Liga Pro in the United States. But such an event requires the approval of the national association of the teams involved, the national association of the host country, the confederations of participating and host countries, as well as FIFA.
Relevent issued the following statement: “If this ruling is upheld, it will undermine the ability of antitrust laws to protect US consumers from agreements designed to divide global markets and restrict competition and choice in the United States.” Our leagues have played abroad. for decades, creating generations of new international fans, and American fans deserve the same opportunity to watch the best players here. “
In October 2018, FIFA announced a policy prohibiting the organization of official matches outside the participants’ home territory. The USSF deferred to FIFA’s advice and refused to sanction Relevent’s request.
Relevent responded by filing an antitrust complaint in September 2019. The complaint alleged that the USSF had conspired with FIFA and Soccer United Marketing, the commercial arm of Major League Soccer, to prevent foreign league matches from being held in the United States. United. Both FIFA and SUM were named as non-party co-conspirators in the court record. SUM is a competitor of Relevent in the United States international football game promotion market.
In July 2020, the lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice, but two months later Relevent added FIFA as a defendant and resubmitted its antitrust claim. This part was rejected again on Tuesday.
Relevent alleged an “anti-competitive market splitting agreement” between the USSF and FIFA to limit the hosting of official matches in the United States, as well as an “illegal vertical agreement” between FIFA and all national associations in the United States. whole world. Relevent also alleged the existence of an illegal horizontal agreement “between and among MLS and other leading men’s professional football leagues and teams”, as well as their “respective FIFA affiliated national associations. Relevent alleged that the intention of the deal was to “adhere to FIFA policy and boycott leagues, clubs and players who participate in unauthorized matches in the United States.”
But the court ruled that the USSF’s adherence to FIFA policy, without additional factual allegations, was not sufficient to prove that the USSF had entered into an illegal deal with FIFA to “restrict production” .
The tribunal reached a similar conclusion with regard to the allegations of a “horizontal agreement”. Caproni ruled that “Initially, the amended complaint nowhere specified with which national USSF leagues, teams and associations allegedly conspired, a loophole that this Court also identified in its prior notice. “