In Madison Square Garden, L.P. v. Nat’l Hockey League, No. 07-4927-CV, 2008 WL 746524 (2d Cir. Mar. 19, 2008), the Second Circuit denied Madison Square Garden — owner of the Rangers — a preliminary injunction against threatened fines for non-compliance with the NHL’s internet policy. That policy requires that all team websites had to be migrated to a common technology platform managed by the NHL and linked to the NHL’s website. When threatened, MSG brought suit seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief based on alleged violations of Section 1 of the Sherman Act and the Donnelly Act. The Southern District of New York denied MSG’s motion for a preliminary injunction and the Second Circuit affirmed holding that “MSG failed to establish a likelihood of success on the merits or sufficiently serious questions” on the merits. Id. at *2. The Second Circuit refused to apply a “quick look” because “the likelihood of anticompetitive effects is not] so obvious that ‘an observed with even a rudimentary understanding of economics could conclude that the arrangements in question would have an anticompetitive effect on customers and markets.’” Id. (citations omitted). In applying the rule of reason, the Second Circuit held that “MSG did not show that the NHL’s website ban has had an actual adverse effect on competition in the relevant market. Nor did MSG demonstrate that the many procompetitive benefits of the NHL’s restriction could be achieved through an alternative means that is less restrictive of competition. While there will certainly be substantive issues for the district court to address on the merits-for example, how the antitrust laws apply to the NHL as a sports league, and what the relevant market is in this case-the district court’s conclusion that preliminary injunctive relief was unwarranted falls well within the range of permissible decisions, and did not constitute an abuse of discretion.” Id. This case illustrates the difficulty of a sports team’s ability to challenge league action which benefits the league collectively. It should be noted, however, that NHL is unlikely to receive immunity under the Copperweld doctrine. See, e.g., Nat’l Hockey League Players Ass’n v. Plymouth Whalers Hockey Club, 419 F.3d 462 (6th Cir. 2005) (“courts considering the actions of professional sports leagues have found the leagues to be joint ventures whose members act in concert (i.e., agree ) to promulgate league rules, rather than one solitary acting unit”).
Posted by : April 10, 2008| On :