MANHATTAN (CN) — A soccer promoter won a Second Circuit reversal on Tuesday that will let it sue FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation for allegedly working to bar foreign leagues from holding matches within the United States.
Relevent Sports LLC, which is headquartered in New York, filed the suit in 2019, claiming that the two soccer bodies conspired to boycott professional soccer clubs that have not been sanctioned by U.S. Soccer, as the federation is known.
It appealed after U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni dismissed the case for failing to show that there was an “antecedent agreement" behind a 2018 policy to divide geographic markets.
Tuesday's ruling from the Second Circuit says such an allegation is not necessary.
“It follows from this precedent that the adoption of a binding association rule designed to prevent competition is direct evidence of concerted action,” U.S. Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier wrote for a three-judge panel in Manhattan. “No further proof is necessary.”
Lohier, an Obama nominee, pointed earlier in the ruling to the Sherman Act precedent. “If the challenged conduct reflects concerted action, then we consider whether that action unreasonably restrains trade,” he said.
Relevent says it was hurt by the 2018 policy because it had partnered with Spain’s professional soccer league La Liga to plan an official season game between FC Barcelona and Girona FC at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. Under the 2018 policy, teams from Europe and South America are allowed to play “friendlies” in the United States but cannot hold regular season competitions.
There were three attempts to bring regular or post-season games to U.S. venues, but Relevent says each was shot down.
“The anticompetitive agreements among [U.S. Soccer], FIFA and others are a naked limitation on output with no offsetting procompetitive benefits,” the promoter’s lawsuit states, “and have inflicted significant damages on Relevent, as well as fans, sponsors and media partners of international soccer events located in the U.S.”
A spokesperson for FIFA said the body will review the decision before determining its next steps. U.S. Soccer did not immediately return a request for comment.
Chief Judge Debra Ann Livingston, a President George W. Bush nominee, concurred in Tuesday's ruling, as did Judge Gerard E. Lynch, who took the bench under President Barack Obama.
The case now heads back to district court in front of Judge Caproni.
Just across the river in New York's Eastern District, a jury has been deliberating FIFA-linked corruption allegations after a seven-week trial. Former Fox executives Hernan Lopez and Carlos Martinez are charged in that case with paying millions in bribes to officials of the South American Football Confederation — one of FIFA’s six continental confederations, known as Conmebol — in exchange for lucrative rights to air South American club soccer’s biggest competition, the Copa Libertadores.
In 2015 law enforcement officials cracked open a bribery investigation that swept soccer’s international governing body, taking down FIFA’s then-president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter and spurring some two dozen public guilty pleas.
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