Proposed dates for further UFC Antitrust hearings won’t happen until August or September

January 21, 2019

If you were hoping for a resolution to the UFC Antitrust Lawsuit in 2019, we have some bad news for you.  It’s unlikely to happen.

A letter filed by the plaintiffs on Friday indicates that both sides won’t make an appearance in the courtroom until this fall.

Letter Re Scheduling by on Scribd

In December, Zuffa filed its Motion for Summary Judgment but prior to any decision, the Judge wanted to understand more of the information offered by the experts, specificially plaintiffs’ expert, Hal Singer.  The parties were to meet and confer on available dates.

As one might expect, lawyer calendars (as well as the Court’s) are packed.  Thus, the first available scheduling option proposed is for August 26-30, 2019 with Dr. Singer and UFC’s expert, Dr. Topel.  In the alternative, they proposed an evidentiary hearing which would start September 9th or 16th.

Payout Perspective:

Clearly, the Court moves at a glacial (without global warming) pace.  Clearing schedules for attorneys, the Court and the experts is quite hard and if you thought this was going to end this year, you (and I) were wrong.  Even with these hearings, there are the prospects of renewed motion for summary judgments and the class certification hearing (to determine if the case deserves class action status).  MMA Payout will keep you posted.

MMA Payout Year in Review: No. 10 – The UFC Antitrust Lawsuit rolls on

December 26, 2018

MMA Payout is doing its annual review of top business stories for the year.  The first story we take a look at is the ongoing Antitrust lawsuit which had several key developments this year.

First, Judge Boulware denied Zuffa’s Motion for Summary Judgment on Friday, December 14th.  It did not decide on class certification on the day as the Court made it clear it wanted to hear from the experts in the case for him to determine if there was a viable case on the part of the Plaintiffs.

Earlier this year, experts for Plaintiffs and Zuffa issued the experts reports in this case.  The reports assessed things such as the liability of Zuffa and potential damages.  Zuffa, of course, shot down these arguments asserted by Plaintiffs’ experts.  They, then filed a motion to exclude Plaintiffs’ expert citing (in general) that the opinions did not follow traditional scientific opinions.  A bulk of the reports were sealed as the experts reviewed confidential information.

Plaintiffs also filed for Class Certification, a requisite of Class Action status.  Zuffa opposed the motion.  At this time, this motion is on hold pending Judge Boulware hearing more on the subject from the experts.

As discussed about on Show Money in December, it appears that the lawsuit will come down to Plaintiffs’ expert’s assertion that the way to determine antitrust injury is based on “wage share” versus “wage level.” Wage share, adopted by Plaintiffs’ is looking at the wages of athletes in comparison with the revenues of the company.  Wage level, adopted by Zuffa, is looking at the wages over a period of time and not in comparison with company revenues.  Clearly, a wage share outlook would favor Plaintiffs if they are asserting that their salaries have been artificially depressed due to anticompetitive measures by Zuffa.  Wage level would favor Zuffa since its clear that salaries have increased over time.

Payout Perspective:

Do not look for the resolution of this case in 2019.  Even if Judge Boulware were to dismiss this case, Plaintiffs would seek to appeal the decision.  Zuffa would do the same if there would be an unfavorable ruling for its case.  The only way this case would end in 2019 is if the parties decided to settle the issue short of trial.  While this would be out of the question, if the Judge were to impose his will on the parties to settle, I would foresee this happening.

Show Money Episode 25: The Vegas Field Trip and Uncle Dana reveals some numbers

December 21, 2018

I joined John Nash and Paul Gift to talk about their coverage of the UFC Antitrust Hearing on December 14th and discuss the Kevin Iole piece in which Dana White revealed salaries and PPV buys.  Enjoy.

You can find the audio here.

 

One last motion before the Class Cert-Summary Judgment hearing in the UFC Antitrust Lawsuit

December 13, 2018

In light of Friday’s big hearing in the Zuffa Antitrust lawsuit in Federal court in Nevada, the parties have filed a joint motion to stipulate how they will deal with references to trade secret or confidential information.

The joint motion was filed on Thursday and is agreed to by the parties.  It’s unlikely that the Court will disturb the agreement.  The parties believed the agreement was necessary as the Protective Order which dictates how to deal with confidential information does not address hearings.

Parties for the Plaintiffs that have filed an Antitrust lawsuit against Zuffa will argue for Class Action status while Zuffa has a Motion for Summary Judgment which may dismiss the case in full on Friday in Federal District Court in Nevada.

It does appear that Plaintiffs reluctantly joined in on the motion as the overarching issue deals with the mention of documents Zuffa believes are confidential and/or trade secret.  A motion to seal is pending before the court.

Joint Motion by on Scribd

 

Payout Perspective:

Both parties had a chance to provide statements to the Court in this Joint Motion.  The Plaintiffs cited Kevin Iole’s Yahoo story from Wednesday in which Dana White gave him the payouts of Chuck Liddell since 2011.  This would seem to run contrary to the claim that Zuffa salaries should be confidential.

The Court could rule on the Motion to Seal documents that were fought over during the pleading process but it has yet to do so.  Tomorrow will be a big day because not since the Motion to Dismiss will this case hinge upon being dismissed.

Court in UFC Antitrust Lawsuit decline legal “hot-tub”

December 2, 2018

The Court in the UFC Antitrust lawsuit has ruled that there not be an evidentiary hearing on the admissibility of expert reports and testimony prior to the December 14th Motion for Summary Judgment and Class Certification hearing.

The Court issued a Minute Order late last week:

The Court has considered the Request [ECF No. [617]] for an evidentiary hearing. The Court DENIES this request at this time. The Court will the hear arguments of counsel and make a determination at the hearing on December 14, 2018 whether an evidentiary hearing is necessary to decide the Motion To Certify [ECF No. [518]].

As we explained in this post, the hearing requested by Zuffa was to determine expert testimony and the admissibility of the same.  The Plaintiffs argued that Zuffa was asking for a reconsideration of a evidentiary hearing to determine the expert testimony.  As Plaintiffs point out, the Motion to Certify the Class occurs on December 14th and would require a delay in that decision if they were to entertain such a hearing.

Payout Perspective:

A minor victory for the Plaintiffs here as it does not have to prepare for another hearing in this lawsuit.  It also prevents a determination on the evidence prior to the class certification hearing.  While the Court may still request an evidentiary hearing at some point, it saw no reason to do it prior to next Friday’s big day.  One might take this as good news for Plaintiffs if you think that the Court was concerned about the information that it needed another day to decide the evidence in this case.  Of course, the court’s calendar could be so full, there was just not enough time to slot it in before the 14th.  MMA Payout will keep you posted.

Plaintiffs in UFC Antitrust Lawsuit try to avoid “hot tubbing”

November 16, 2018

Plaintiffs in the UFC Antitrust lawsuit have filed a letter to the Court arguing that there should not be an evidentiary hearing on expert testimony.  The legal slang of “hot tubbing” where “concurrent expert evidence” is being offered and heard by the court at the same time.

Letter November 16 by on Scribd

Plaintiffs see a request by Zuffa to hold an evidentiary hearing regarding the expert testimony as an end-around to exclude expert testimony.  The Court denied Zuffa’s Daubert motions without prejudice in late September per Plaintiffs. It’s the position of Plaintiffs that this is a way to ask for the Court to reconsider at this late date.  Plaintiffs also argues that the format of each side presenting its experts on direct and then cross examines the other side would take multiple days.  Notably, this would run into the rescheduled date for the Motion for Summary Judgment of Friday, December 14, 2018.  It would most certainly delay the hearing date once again if the Court were to entertain the hearings.

There is also the argument that evidentiary hearings on class certification are not required.  Plaintiffs cite cases where the Court suggests that evidentiary hearings for these types of complex cases are unnecessary.  Finally, Plaintiffs also argue that evidentiary hearings for summary judgment almost never happen and there’s no extraordinary reason brought up by Zuffa why one should take place now.

Notably, “hot tubbing” is not prohibited, but its not specifically addressed.  There are various opinions on its use and affect.  Judges have wide latitude when it comes to admitting expert witness testimony.  Of the factors a court may consider, the most important tends to be whether or not the testimony is a waste of the court’s time.

Payout Perspective:

And we are now introduced to the term of “hot tubbing” which is a term that originates from Australia according to some research.  It’s the “battle of the experts” and the purpose seems to be a way to flesh out some of the theories asserted by the parties in hopes of scaling down the arguments for the court at trial.  Plaintiffs believe that Zuffa is asking for this type of hearing as either a second bite at attempting to exclude their experts or stall.  I would think that it’s the former rather than the latter.  Zuffa likely believes that if they can knock out some of Plaintiffs experts, there will be little left of Plaintiffs claims.  MMA Payout will keep you posted.

ShowMoney talks UFC Antitrust Lawsuit and ONE business

November 14, 2018

Show Money is back once again as I discuss the business of MMA with Bloody Elbow’s John Nash and Paul Gift (also of Forbes).

This show’s topics includes the upcoming Motion for Summary Judgment in the UFC Antitrust Lawsuit and the business moves made by ONE Championship.

Zuffa files Reply Brief supporting its right to seal docs in Antitrust case

October 29, 2018

In its latest filing, Zuffa has filed its reply in support of its motion to seal parts of the opposition brief filed by the plaintiffs in response to the company’s motion for summary judgment in the Antitrust lawsuit.

Zuffa filed a Motion to Seal certain documents that are being used in support of its Motion for Summary Judgment.  The promotion included justifications for sealing each of the documents it requests.

Zuffa Motion to Seal by on Scribd

Plaintiffs argue that the documents are not commercially sensitive information.  In its brief, Plaintiffs cite testimony from Zuffa’s attorney Michael Mersch about a hypothetical contract, testimony related to Lorenzo Fertitta’s deposition concerning financial information and wage share.  Plaintiffs argue that there is no confidential information contained in the testimony sought to be sealed. Zuffa also requests portions of expert reports to be redacted.  This includes plaintiffs’ expert report from Hal Singer and its own expert Robert Topel.

Plaintiffs Opposition by on Scribd

Perhaps one of the more salient arguments in Plaintiffs argument is that many of the passages that Zuffa seeks to redact are old.  Essentially, the information that Zuffa seeks to seal are remnants of the past and do not contain trade secrets because they no longer contain information that is subject to the current business landscape.

The Reply is its response to the Plaintiffs’ seeking to unseal certain documents filed in support of the brief filed by the fighters suing Zuffa. Plaintiffs’ opposed the motion for summary judgment filed by Zuffa seeking to dismiss the fighters’ claims against the promotion.  But, although Zuffa has unsealed and unredacted certain documents, there still remains a giant portion still unavailable for viewing.

Zuffa Reply ISO Motion to Seal by on Scribd

In its Reply Brief it reaffirms that it properly identified documents that it was sealing and met the legal burden for documents needed to preclude.

Additionally, they claim that the documents sought to seal are specific and would pose competitive harm to the company as they would divulge confidential business information and strategy.  Zuffa also rejects Plaintiffs argument that the information sought to seal is old and already public knowledge.

The Court will decide whether Zuffa carries its burden to show that the records it seeks to seal “articulate compelling reasons supported by specific factual findings,” providing ‘articulable facts’ that favor secrecy and that those interests outweigh the presumption of public access to judicial records.

While it has been underscored in this briefing, the right of access by the media is a viable argument for the Court to look at the sealing of documents critically.  The Reply includes several tweets from John Nash and articles for Paul Gift which discuss the Zuffa antitrust lawsuit.  Certainly, the attorneys have taken just a survey of the reporting going on here as media here is just an afterthought from both legal sides.

The recent reversal in ruling in the Hunt-Zuffa lawsuit which sealed Bout Agreements.  In the Order which granted the sealing of documents, the Court stated, “[D]efendants claim that the agreements contain proprietary information, and that competitive standing with MMA promoters.  The court finds that defendants have identified compelling reasons that warrant sealing the exhibits…”  This does not seem compelling at all.

How will this all shake out?  If you take the Hunt ruling into consideration, it would seem that despite the “compelling” standard for sealing documents, the Courts skew toward finding any excuse to seal a document.

Plaintiffs file Opposition to UFC’s Motion for Summary Judgment in Antitrust lawsuit

September 21, 2018

Plaintiffs in the Zuffa Antitrust Lawsuit have filed their Opposition to UFC’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  The 47-page long opposition brief includes over 100 exhibits, many of which are redacted, or include deposition transcripts with redactions.

The main argument in the Plaintiffs’ Opposition is that the UFC is the “major league” of MMA and it has done so through predatory means.  The theory asserted is that it has become the top of the food chain in MMA through its retention of top-level fighters.  It argues that “a critical mass” of elite fighters is necessary to compete with the UFC.  But, the UFC’s scheme has foreclosed this opportunity.

Despite the fact Zuffa argued in its motion that there was ample competition within the industry as evidenced through testimony of rival MMA promoters and fighters that left the organization, Plaintiffs argue that the “supposed evidence of Fighter mobility merely reflects that the UFC is the “major league” of MMA and cuts Fighters who do not meet its standard.”

Plaintiffs argue in their brief that Zuffa’s anticompetive scheme was “designed to lock in current and potential top fighters to exclusive contracts for the most valuable parts of their careers.”

Oppos to MSJ – Plaintiffs by on Scribd

It noted that Zuffa used its market leverage to extend exclusivity over its fighters. This was done through coercion, intimidation and other means of forcible persuasion.  This included four ways outlined by Plaintiffs and evidenced through deposition transcripts.  This included:

  • Move Fighters to unfavorable placement on the fight card for an event
  • Control the timing of a bout (refuse to off Fighters bouts)
  • Delay a Fighter from competing for another promoter through the Right to Match and Exclusive Negotiation clauses in its contract.
  • Deprive fighters of title opportunities

Plaintiffs argue that Zuffa’s scheme impaired competition through locking up the majority of top fighters, deprived rival promoters of the key input of top fighters and relegated other promoters to feeder or minor leagues.  It calls out other promoters cited in Zuffa’s motion that indicated that they could compete “are not credible and are disputed.”  In fact, Plaintiffs show why Bellator, OneFC and PFL’s statements indicating that they are on par with the UFC are false.  Also, noted in a footnote to the motion, Absolute Championship Berkut, also recognized as a direct competitor, noted the cancellation of three events due to “organizational and financial problems.”

The Plaintiffs cite Dr. Singer’s expert report regarding the input and output markets and its showing how Zuffa has suppressed fighters’ wages, restricted the output of fighter services and excluded rivals.  Plaintiffs also argue that the acquisitions of other organizations by the UFC stifled competition and restricted fighter mobility.

Payout Perspective:

There is a lot to digest here and MMA Payout will take a deeper dive into the opposition including the evidence used by Plaintiffs.  The crux of their opposition is that the UFC’s anticompetitive scheme is based upon the retention of top tier fighters through exclusive contracts.  It locked in top fighters during their “most valuable parts of their careers” and was to leverage its market power to extend exclusivity.  As a result, it impaired competition despite the views of rival promoters that indicated it had no problem signing fighters it wanted.  As a result of the scheme, the anticompetitive effects included suppression of fighters’ compensation, reduction of “quality” MMA events and it suppressed marketwide output of MMA Events and inflated prices.  Furthermore, Zuffa cannot show that the contractual exclusivity provided procompetitive benefits which may outweigh the anticompetitive effects.

Zuffa has a chance to offer a Reply to this Opposition which will be submitted on November 2nd.

Plaintiffs in UFC Antitrust Lawsuit request Court to file response to MMA Manager Declaration

August 30, 2018

The plaintiffs in the UFC antitrust lawsuit have requested that the Court review its Surreply Brief in opposition to Zuffa’s Motion to Seal Zuffa’s Summary Judgment Motion and Portions of Plaintiffs’ Class Certification Reply.

Specifically, the Surreply Brief addresses the Declaration of MMA Manager Ali Abdelaziz which was included in Zuffa’s Reply Brief.

A Surreply Brief is not automatically considered by the Court, in fact, it is usually disliked since its additionally work for an already overworked court.  These types of briefs must bring up new evidence, facts important to the case not brought up or another exigent reason.  Reiterating arguments that would have been contained in an opposition will likely get poor treatment.

Here, plaintiffs believe the need to address Abdelaziz’s Declaration which Zuffa used to aid its Reply Brief.  The argument in which Zuffa uses Abdelaziz’s testimony is based on the need to seal payout information of fighters.

The manager of many top fighters submitted this declaration on behalf of Zuffa.  He claims that public disclosure raises “legitimate safety concerns” for fighters and their families.  He also believes that public disclosure of terms and compensation of fighters’ agreements.

Declaration of Ali Abdelaziz by JASONCRUZ206 on Scribd

It is worthy to note that no current UFC fighter signed a Declaration in support.  But, Abdelaziz, who represents a huge swath of UFC fighters supports the sealing of documents.  Although Abdelaziz’s declaration supports the last argument in Zuffa’s brief (and usually the weakest), plaintiffs felt compelled to address it.  The declaration was torn apart by the plaintiffs in its Surreply Brief.

Motion to FIle Surreply by on Scribd

Plaintiffs’ list four reasons why Ali’s Declaration fails: 1) The rationale that disclosure of fighter compensation hinders rather than helps in obtaining negotiating athlete purses rings false lin light of evidence of salaries of players in other major leagues.  2) The Declaration contradicts Zuffa’s own arguments in favor of sealing since it argued that disclosure would put Zuffa in a strategic disadvantage whereas Abdelaziz says non-disclosure is advantageous. 3) The allegation that fighters would be put at risk of kidnapping or extortion is not supported by credible evidence.; and 4) Plaintiffs calls Abdelaziz credibility a question since he’s an MMA manager and alleged principal in the WSOF as a promoter.

Payout Perspective:

While the brief is damaging, its still up to the Court to decide whether or not to take it into consideration.  Of course, we know that Zuffa will file an opposition to this Surreply which means more filings.  MMA Payout will keep you posted.

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