UFC antitrust update: Zuffa hopes to appeal class action ruling

John S. Nash breaks down all the details from the recent status conference on the UFC antitrust lawsuit.

By: John S. Nash | 1 month ago

After years of anywhere from slow to no progress, the UFC antitrust lawsuit has moved into what seems like overdrive.

Earlier in August, Judge Boulware issued his long awaited written order of class certification so that Le V Zuffa case can now progress as a class action — only three years after he verbally indicated he would be “soon” granting it. And just this Monday, a status conference was held in which the Judge let the two parties and the public know what we can expect in the immediate future.

UFC antitrust lawsuit to be fast tracked

There are two antitrust cases against the UFC, with Le vs. Zuffa covering December 2010 to June 2017, and Johnson vs Zuffa covering July 2017 to the present. Judge Boulware clarified at the outset that the cases would be tried separately. The case of ‘Le’ would take precedence and proceed first, focusing on damages. The ‘Johnson’ case would follow subsequently.

Due to the age of the UFC antitrust lawsuit, the judge expressed the intention to expedite proceedings, with the goal of conducting the trial as soon as possible, unless a higher court overturned the decision.

Le will be tried next year. I want to put this case on a fast track for trial,” Boulware said, as quoted by Bloody Elbow and Forbes’ writer Paul Gift.

The Defendants have until August 23, 14 days after the official granting of class certification, to file their written notice to appeal. The Plaintiffs will then have 10 days to respond. After that the Ninth Circuit typically determines whether or not they will take up Zuffa’s appeal within 90 days, so we should know before the end of the end of the year whether or not we are looking at a trial in a Nevada court next year or instead going through the appeal process in a Northern California appellate court.

And as Plaintiffs’s attorneys pointed out, the 9th circuit rejects 80% of all appeals, so statistically there is a high probability the case progresses, first to Summary Judgment which the Judge has indicated he will not grant to the Defendants, and then to trial in “March or April.”

As for trial length, if it indeed pushes through early in 2024, lawyers from both parties agreed that it would only take roughly four to five weeks.

All records from UFC antitrust lawsuit to be unsealed

In another major update, Judge Boulware indicated that all records pertaining to the UFC antitrust lawsuit would be unsealed soon, with very limited redactions for health and contact information.

This could reveal a trove of information not only on Zuffa’s business and finances from previous years, but also relevant emails, texts and communication from it’s top executives pertaining to the important issues raised from this case. This would be limited, though, to those documents that had been entered in the case.

As part of discovery, Zuffa handed over to the Plaintiffs some 800,000 documents, but the vast majority of these were not used by their experts in their reports. So people expecting access to all Zuffa communications in the UFC antitrust lawsuit may be disappointed.

Judge denies UFC’s request for additional discovery

From appearances, the hearing was a fairly one-sided affair, with the Judge siding with the Plaintiffs requests over the Defendants. One such request. made by the lead attorney for the UFC, William Isaacson, was additional discovery. He argued that with discovery, they could show that the market was healthy and competitive during the class period, with low barriers to entry, which contradicted the allegations of anticompetitive behavior.

Eric Cramer likened Zuffa’s position to that a drunk driver trying to evade responsibility for an accident by claiming they had sobered up the next day. He argued that the appearance of any competition or changes to their contracts after the 2017 end date for the class were irrelevant to their case which claimed the UFC abused monopsony power from 2010 to 2017. In fact, he claimed, the appearance of competition after the UFC changed their contracts reinforced their claims that the UFC was abusing their monopsony power.

The Judge ultimately denied this request, siding with the Plaintifs that the case should progress.

UPDATE: UFC set to appeal

Before the case can go ahead, however, the court will have to consider Zuffa’s right to appeal the class action certification granted to the plaintiffs. The Ninth Circuit will take on Zuffa’s motion for permission to appeal according to recently released case documents.

Injunctive Relief: Shorter UFC contracts?

Regarding injunctive relief, the plaintiffs argued that Zuffa’s contracts with fighters contained exclusivity clauses that stifled competition. They proposed that the court should eliminate or significantly reduce these clauses, allowing fighters to become free agents within a year. This, they believed, would promote genuine competition in the marketplace.

This would have drastic changes for the UFC’s business model as they typically have much longer contract lengths and exclusive negotiation periods, with tolling provisions, “champion’s clause” or other provisions that can extend these deals into “perpetuity,” as the judge previously described. …

To read the rest of John S. Nash’s analysis of the UFC antitrust lawsuit head over to the Bloody Elbow Substack. Paid subscription on Substack fund this kind of reporting. If you want to support BE, and Nash’s work, please pick up a paid subscription today.

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John S. Nash
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