Promoter suing U.S. Soccer for refusal to sanction league matches in U.S.

Associated Press
NBC Sports

NEW YORK (AP) A promoter filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation over the governing body’s refusal to sanction international league matches in the United States, a case similar in some aspects to an action launched last spring in New York state court.

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The new suit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan by Relevent Sports, a company owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Relevent is now represented by Jeffrey Kessler, the lawyer retained by members of the U.S. women’s national team in their wage and gender discrimination lawsuit against the USSF.

Relevent sued in New York Supreme Court after the USSF refused to sanction a league match between Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

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During a hearing in May before Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration. Relevent sent the judge a letter on Aug. 5 saying it intended to discontinue the case, but the action is still pending.

In the new suit, Relevant said that when it proposed moving a Spanish La Liga match last season between Barcelona and Girona, USSF President Carlos Cordeiro told it to first obtain approval from UEFA and the Royal Spanish Football Federation. The Spanish federation refused to grant permission.

Relevent also said Cordeiro refused to discuss the possibility of moving last year’s Copa Libertadores final between Boca Juniors and River Plate to Miami Gardens. The second leg was moved from Argentina because of security concerns and was played in Madrid.

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Relevent accused the USSF of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act and of tortious interference. It called Switzerland-based FIFA and Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of Major League Soccer, non-party co-conspirators. Relevent also said it had paid $20.5 million to the USSF to sanction exhibition games in the U.S. from 2013-18 and anticipated paying the USSF $2.4 million this year.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni, who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama.

Asked for comment, the USSF cited its April statement that FIFA rules to do allow it to sanction foreign league matches in the U.S.

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