Relevent files second suit against U.S. Soccer

International soccer match promoter Relevent Sports has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation on Monday.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that the USSF conspired with FIFA and Soccer United Marketing, the commercial arm of Major League Soccer, to prevent matches from foreign leagues from being held in the U.S. Both FIFA and SUM are named as non-party co-conspirators in the court filing.

SUM is a competitor of Relevent in the market for promoting international soccer matches in the U.S.

The lawsuit challenges the authority of FIFA to act as the sport's worldwide governing body. This is significant because the USSF has sole discretion to sanction international soccer matches in the U.S., and that power is derived from FIFA. FIFA's statutes also give it the authority to penalize FIFA-affiliated leagues, clubs and players who participate in unsanctioned matches.

In the court filing, Relevent -- which is owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross -- alleges that the conspiracy in restraint of trade involving the USSF, FIFA and SUM has "increased the cost and reduced the output of a unique class of soccer events in the U.S., including events Relevent had conducted or sought to conduct. The anticompetitive agreements among USSF, FIFA and others are a naked limitation on output with no offsetting procompetitive benefits, and have inflicted significant damages on Relevent, as well as fans, sponsors, and media partners of international soccer events located in the U.S."

A USSF spokesperson declined to comment, pointing to a previous statement the Federation gave at the time of a similar lawsuit Relevent filed back in April. That statement read in part, "U.S. Soccer's process for approving international matches follows the FIFA statutes established to govern the game across the globe, which is required of all Federations and Confederations."

SUM has an arrangement with the USSF to market the Federations commercial rights, including those of the men's and women's national teams. According to financial documents posted by the USSF, SUM paid the Federation over $27 million during the 2018 fiscal year.

SUM also has a marketing relationship with the Mexico Football Federation to market matches the men's national team plays in the U.S. The suit alleges that this relationship "provides a strong economic incentive" for USSF to exercise its sanctioning authority on behalf of SUM and at the expense of Relevent.

Relevent has staged friendly matches involving foreign clubs in the past and is the organizer of the International Champions Cup, a preseason tournament involving clubs from around the world.

But in October of 2018, FIFA adopted a policy of preventing league matches from taking place outside of the league's home country. It was this policy that prevented Relevent from staging international club matches on three occasions.

After fan violence forced the postponement of the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final between River Plate and Boca Juniors last year, Relevent offered to stage the game in Miami, but was rebuffed by the USSF and its president Carlos Cordeiro. The match was eventually held in Madrid.

Relevent later signed a commercial rights deal with Spain's La Liga, and tried to host a league match involving Barcelona and Girona at Miami's Hard Rock Stadium earlier this year, but was denied sanctioning by the Royal Spanish Football Federation. Relevent later tried to host an Ecuadorian league match between Barcelona and Guayaquil City, but the USSF refused to sanction the event.

That latest refusal resulted in Relevent filing the lawsuit last April in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, but that lawsuit was later withdrawn.

Lead counsel for the current suit is Jeffrey Kessler, who is also the lead attorney for players on the U.S. women's national team in their pay discrimination lawsuit against the USSF. He is also the lead attorney in the North American Soccer League's antitrust lawsuit against the USSF over the Federation's refusal to grant the NASL a designation as a Division II league.