Antitrust suit against FIFA and U.S. Soccer revived

More than 16 months after a U.S. District Court judge threw out a lawsuit challenging the authority of FIFA and U.S. Soccer to regulate the soccer market, the case has been revived.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Relevent Sports (owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross) could move forward with its case and remanded it to the District Court.

Relevent sued U.S. Soccer over its longstanding ban on foreign teams playing official league or cup matches in the United States. In October 2018, the FIFA Council issued a directive prohibiting the staging of official games outside of the participant league's home country, emphasizing "the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

In March 2019, Relevent, which organized the lucrative summer International Champions Cup men's friendly series for many years, attempted to organize an Ecuadoran league match — Barcelona vs. Guayaquil City — at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium. Earlier plans to host a LaLiga regular-season contest in Miami between LaLiga's Barcelona and Girona had also fallen apart.

In July 2021, U.S. district court judge Valerie Caproni ruled that U.S. Soccer had not conspired with FIFA to block the organization of competitive league and cup matches involving foreign clubs in the United States. A year earlier, Caproni granted U.S. Soccer's motion that any tort claim Relevent had against U.S. Soccer should go to arbitration but gave Relevent the opportunity to add FIFA as a defendant and amend its antitrust complaint.

The issue addressed by the Court of Appeals dealt with Relevent's original pleadings necessary to survive a motion to dismiss — did Relevent have to allege an "agreement to agree" to restrict where teams play or was the policy itself sufficient for the case to more forward? Caproni rejected Relevent's argument that the policy itself constituted "direct evidence” of concerted action.

The Court of Appeals found FIFA's members all agreed to adhere to its policies when they joined the organization, and that was enough. “Contrary to the district court’s conclusion, there is no need for Relevent to allege a prior ‘agreement to agree’ or conspiracy to adopt the policy," the three-judge panel wrote.

Still to be decided by Caproni back in District Court will be whether the policy is indeed an antitrust violation.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust unit weighed in, advising U.S. Soccer and FIFA in a letter sent on March 16, 2020, that a policy of dividing up geographic markets was prohibited, sports leagues and organizations were not immune from U.S. antitrust laws, and the matter did not fall into any established exemptions like how rules of the game are applied.

FIFA then tried to back track, arguing its statement in October 2018 was "guidance" or a merely a non-binding “sporting principle,” not a "new policy or a change to FIFA’s rules." (Caproni, in her ruling, termed the FIFA Council's announcement a "policy" prohibiting the staging of official games outside the participants’ home territory” and that “all National Associations, leagues, clubs, and players must comply with FIFA directives.”)

The Department of Justice filed an amicus brief in favor of Relevent's appeal in October 2021.

5 comments about "Antitrust suit against FIFA and U.S. Soccer revived".
  1. R2 Dad, March 7, 2023 at 11:56 p.m.

    The NASL is dead--not sure why this is relevant anymore.

  2. Santiago 1314 replied, March 8, 2023 at 6:42 a.m.

    R2... FIFA Mafia trying to keep Control over Everything, Can't blame them for Trying to keep a Lid on it... Seems that NFL can play in London, Mexico City; but No One can play League Soccer Games in USA.???... Not sure what this has to do with NASL

  3. Michael Saunders, March 8, 2023 at 7:49 a.m.

    Santiago ....  Using the NFL playing abroad as an analogy is false equivalency ..... It is a choice made by the League, not another organization seeking to profit off of it ...... If FIFA wanted to have "league" matches in the US or elsewhere, it would.

  4. Santiago 1314 replied, March 10, 2023 at 10:41 a.m.

    Your missing the Point...
    The "National League", LaLiga wants to put on a Game, between 2 teams from "IT's" league, in Miami.  It's Not FIFAs Team... They dont Own Anything about the game, but "Oversight"
    It should Really be between USSF/MLS and RFE/LaLiga
    FIFA should just sit back and Collect it's Percentage and Enforce any Disciplines that might arise out of the Contest
    It might have been better to use Baseball, Hockey, Basketball analogy... As they are "Controlled" Worldwide by Governing Body(due to Olympic Regs).. WBSC, IIHF, FIBA,...
    Can you really imagine one of these Governing Bodies telling the Yankees or Lakers or Bruins, you can't play in Mexico City or London or Germany.??? 

  5. Bob Ashpole, March 11, 2023 at 1:30 a.m.

    This isn't really a story about clubs. It is a story about promoters wanting to block FIFA from control. 

    As far as the clubs and players would be concerned, the matches would not be sanctioned matches. And I am sure that the promoters want to get more than a toe in the door. They want to be able to stage international club competitions. Staged at times that they choose. Unsanctioned, but meaning all of the money including worldwide broadcast rights would belong to the promoters. Not to the clubs, Leagues, FAs, or FIFA. The story is about money and greed. In the US, MLS is a "person", not the clubs which are francises controlled by MLS. In Europe the clubs are usually the "persons". Consider a promoter wanting to hire all the most popular clubs in Europe to stage a club competition to compete in the same timeslots for audiances with existing FIFA sanctioned domestic and international competitions. It would be a way to stage a super club league without any financial fairplay rules.

    Would you watch the Euros or the World Cup finals if...your favorite super clubs were competing in a private tournament broadcast at the same time? Then there is sports gambling too. That is the greed here. In most of the world bribery is the way of doing business. Bribery can establish exclusive dealing arrangements. It can even fix matches. There is potentially many billions of dollars of profits at stake. I think the better analogy here is not to the NFL, NHL, etc, but to professional boxing, wrestling, and mixed martial arts. Outside the courthouse, there are a lot of rats in the sewers interested in the outcome of this suit.

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