Governing body US Soccer is appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn a “radical” anti-trust ruling that it says could expose the organization and other members of associations to liability and damages.
The move follows a decision in March by a US appeals court that allows US-based sports marketing agency Relevent Sport’s antitrust lawsuit against US Soccer to go ahead.
The suit is centered around the governing body refusing to sanction several official games between foreign teams on US soil, including a top-tier LaLiga match between Spanish giants Barcelona and Girona.
Foreign soccer teams play friendly matches in the US during the off-season, but those games are not part of regular season standings, and no points are awarded. Relevent has had a 15-year agreement in place with LaLiga since 2018, which proposed staging regular season matches in the US.
In its refusal, US Soccer cited a 2018 FIFA policy that its ruling council "emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association."
In response, Relevent filed its suit at the US District Court in 2019 accusing US Soccer of engaging in a conspiracy with FIFA to prevent foreign clubs and leagues from holding competitive matches in the US to stop competition with domestic top-tier league Major League Soccer.
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At the time it said: “This boycott has deprived fans of international soccer in the US of the opportunity to attend Official Season International Soccer Game Events in the US and is a blatant antitrust violation.”
A judge initially dismissed Relevent’s complaint on the basis that it failed to show that US Soccer “agreed with anyone, let alone with all 210 other national associations and countless leagues and teams to do anything.”
However, after appealing, a judge in the Second Circuit ruled Relevent could maintain an antitrust conspiracy lawsuit against US Soccer in March, opening the door for the suit to go ahead.
Now, US Soccer has appealed to the US Supreme Court in the hopes of killing the case for good claiming the decision will have “immensely important consequences” for member associations and their individual members.
In its filing, the organization’s lawyer said: “The Second Circuit's 'radical' decision would imperil thousands of entities that belong to membership associations providing procompetitive benefits across a wide range of industries.”
It also urged the Supreme Court to resolve what is seen as a divide among US appeal courts over the scope of liability to members of associations.
In short, US Soccer and FIFA’s argument is that LaLiga is a Spanish league played in Spain by Spanish clubs, while competitive leagues in the US are played between US clubs in front of US fans.
In preventing foreign teams from playing regular games, the governing body is attempting to protect the growth of its own league, as the money made from the Relevent-LaLiga deal will not filter down through the US soccer ecosystem but head back into the pockets of the Spanish league system.
Relevent, meanwhile, is arguing that a monopoly, created by US Soccer through FIFA’s policy, is anti-competitive and has damaged its business.
The case will be considered by the court at the end of September at the earliest.
Image: Alex Caparros/Getty Images