USA Cricket's decision to partner with ACE for new professional league incurs lawsuit
The American Cricket Premier League, a body attempting to establish a professional Twenty20 cricket league in US, has filed a lawsuit against the International Cricket Council, world cricket’s governing body, and USA Cricket.
The ACPL is suing the organisations for alleged corruption involved in the process earlier this year of USA Cricket choosing American Cricket Enterprise, a newly-formed entity, as its partner in developing a professional cricket league in the country. ACPL had also bid to become USA Cricket’s partner, but lost out to ACE.
The complaint alleged various acts of corruption – including conspiracy, self-dealing, undisclosed transactions, and conflicts of interest – against ACE, an organisation run by Times of India Group, a large Indian media conglomerate, and Willow TV, the largest cricket broadcaster in North America.
Karl Geercken, a partner at New York law firm Alston & Bird (which is representing ACPL in this case), said: “USA Cricket, the ICC, Willow TV, and the other defendants have entered into a continuing agreement and conspiracy that constitutes an unreasonable restraint of trade, the purpose of which is to eliminate or reduce competition in the U.S. cricket market by excluding ACPL.”
Geercken added that: “USA Cricket engaged in a shell game to replace competition with a façade that sought to enshrine the conflicted, self-interested, incumbent participants in the sport to the detriment of American cricket enthusiasts and commercial supporters.”
The lawyer also said that USA Cricket engaged in "designing an RFP process that created the illusion of a free and fair competitive process that actually had a predetermined victor."
The lawsuit claimed that Willow TV, whose founder is also ACE’s chief executive, provided free advertising during its cricket broadcasts for the election campaigns of four of USA Cricket’s seven board members.
The complaint added: “After each of the conflicted board members won their elections, they were asked to vote on ACE’s Willow-backed proposal and, in effect, return the favour.”
Another complaint made by ACPL is that the Times of India Group, through its ownership of Willow TV, is also a major partner of the ICC, and that the group is an important sponsor of ICC world events. Willow TV holds US broadcasting rights to all ICC world events up to 2023.
ACPL also noted that its proposal to USA Cricket included the offer to pay $8 million a year for the first two years of the deal to the latter organisation, as opposed to the $2 million a year from ACE.
The ACPL bid also included provisions made for developing new facilities to aid the growth of cricket in the country, including for a facility already under construction in Atlanta, Georgia. ACE’s bid did not include these kind of arrangements.
It was announced late last month that ACE had won USA Cricket's tender, and that this would result in over $1 billion being invested in developing cricket in the country over a 10-year period.
ACE is backed by Sameer Mehta and Vijay Srinivasan, the founders of Willow TV, and Satyan Gajwani and Vineet Jain, the principals of The Times of India Group. Three years ago, Times Internet, the digital arm of Times of India, acquired Willow TV.
The new US league is being provisionally slated to start in 2021, and will “feature top international players from the US and around the world, combined with a focus on pathways to develop a homegrown player pool for USA Cricket and the league.”
In 2015, the ICC suspended the United States of America Cricket Association, citing concerns over the governance, finance, reputation and cricketing activities of the association, and then expelled it in 2017.
USA Cricket was then formed to unify cricket in the country, and the organisation was approved as an ICC member in January.