MLW files antitrust lawsuit against WWE

Yesterday (January 11), MLW filed an antitrust lawsuit against WWE. Among other things, a 19-page filing in the Northern District of California alleges that WWE intentionally interfered with contractual and potential economic relationships in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

In addition to the many talking points discussed about WWE’s dominance of the professional wrestling business after its 2001 acquisition of WCW, the lawsuit specifically covers two cases in which MLW alleges that WWE pressured third parties not to do business with the Court Bauer promotion.

The first – MLW’s heavily promoted deal with Vice that quietly disappeared after the company aired one fighting ground A special on the network last October – discussed in the MLW press release about their suit:

MLW has filed an anti-confidence lawsuit against WWE

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – January 11, 2022 – Major League Wrestling (MLW) (MLW Media LLC) is filing a lawsuit today against World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE). The federal court’s antitrust lawsuit is based on WWE’s continued attempts to undermine competition and monopoly in the professional wrestling market by interfering with MLW contracts and business prospects.

As described in the complaint, WWE pressured third parties to relinquish contracts and potential relationships with MLW. WWE’s misconduct involved disrupting every level of MLW’s business, including a major MLW broadcast deal that would have been transformative for the company.

MLW also alleges in the complaint that in early 2021, after MLW announced that it was in talks with VICE TV to broadcast MLW programming on VICE TV, a former WWE executive warned VICE TV that WWE owner Vince McMahon was “dismayed” that VICE TV was broadcasting MLW programming, and that VICE TV should stop doing business with MLW, and the CEO of VICE TV responded that WWE’s behavior was illegal and an antitrust violation, with the WWE CEO responding that it could not control McMahon.

“WWE has wrongly denied its competitors crucial opportunities for many years, but its latest behavior has been even more illogical,” said MLW CEO Kurt Bauer. “I think we speak for the rest of the professional wrestling world when we say this anti-competitive behavior needs to stop.”

WWE’s constant misconduct has harmed fans of professional wrestling and competition in the professional wrestling industry. Through this lawsuit, MLW is seeking to recover its losses due to WWE’s interference and urging WWE not to intervene in the future.

The case is in the caption MLW Media LLC v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. She is represented by Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP.

Another key point in the lawsuit is Bauer’s never-before-seen streaming deal. The lawsuit alleges that MLW signed a “profitable agreement” with Tubi-owned Fox in mid-2021, with a press release written for an August issue about a product launched in September. From the file (via PWInsider):

Prior to Tubi and MLW’s release of the joint press release, WWE became aware of the terms and existence of the license agreement. On or about August 9, 2021, WWE Executive Stephanie McMahon spoke with a Tubi executive in California about the license agreement. Ms. McMahon initially lobbied for Tubi CEO to deny MLW a time slot to compete head-to-head with WWE NXT on Tuesday nights.But Ms. McMahon eventually pressured Toby CEO and other senior Fox executives to end the entire agreement.Tubi’s subsidiary Fox could lose business WWE or its preferred content if Tubi does not agree to WWE’s request and terminate his agreement with MLW. On August 9, 2021 – the night before a planned press release regarding the Tubi-MLW deal – as a result of WWE pressure and interference, MLW received a letter purporting to terminate the license agreement.”

The lawsuit also alleges illegal business practices by WWE, including attempts to steal MLW talent, urging wrestlers to breach their contracts and revealing confidential and proprietary information about MLW’s business.

Both parties released statements to Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics regarding the lawsuit:

MLW is asking the court to award monetary and punitive damages, and an “injunction to prevent WWE from engaging in unfair and uncompetitive business practices toward MLW.”

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