It is a common occurrence for sports leagues to come under antitrust violations from other sports leagues (see USFL v. NFL, 842 F.2d 1335), sponsors (see American Needle Inc. v. NFL, 560 U.S. 183), and even its own athletes (see Brady v. NFL). Whatever the case, plaintiffs charge that the sports league in question is somehow engaged in unfair or noncompetitive practices. The basic test for antitrust violations is to first identify a specific market, and it is here that the leagues find themselves exempt. For example, the National Basketball Association is made up of 30 teams, but it is considered a single entity in the overall market for professional basketball. This allows the league to escape antitrust from other leagues. With the players and athletes, the leagues set up a collective bargaining agreement with the respected players union which prevents antitrust charges from the players. All this has worked for years with major professional sports leagues such as the National Football League and Major League Baseball. However, a recent lawsuit filed against the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) brings interesting questions about its labor practices and the rights of the fighters.
The class action lawsuit, filed by current and former fighters, allege that the UFC illegally restricts the fighter’s earnings by preventing them from competing in other mixed martial arts promotions and commanding a share of the fighter’s likeness fees for video games. When such issues are presented to a league such as the NFL, the answers can usually be found in the collective bargaining agreement with the player’s union. The problem here is that the UFC has no such agreement with any fighter’s union and instead contracts with the individual fighters. Thus, the question is if the UFC is unfairly restricting these fighters from competing in other MMA promotions?
This case presents a shaky area for the UFC due to the absence of a collective bargaining agreement, something the NFL uses to escape antitrust from its players. The suit was filed on Tuesday, December 16 of this year so it will be a long while before any answers appear. Further, though only three fighters are named in the suit, there is no telling how many more are currently or will become a part of the action.
Leonard Large, Managing Editor