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MLW files antitrust lawsuit against WWE

Yesterday (Jan. 11), MLW filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against WWE. Among other things, the 19 page filing with the Northern District of California alleges WWE intentionally interfered with contractual & prospective economic relations in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

In addition to much discussed talking points about WWE’s domination of the pro wrestling business after their 2001 acquisition of WCW, the suit specifically covers two instances where MLW alleges WWE pressured third parties to not do business with Court Bauer’s promotion.

One — MLW’s heavily hyped deal with Vice which quietly went away after the company aired one Fightland special on the network last October — is discussed in the press release from MLW about their suit:

MLW Files Anti-Trust Lawsuit Against WWE

San Francisco, CA – Jan. 11, 2022 – Professional wrestling company Major League Wrestling (MLW) (MLW Media LLC), filed a lawsuit today against World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE). The federal court antitrust lawsuit is based on WWE’s ongoing attempts to undermine competition in and monopolize the professional wrestling market by interfering with MLW’s contracts and business prospects.

As described in the complaint, WWE pressured third parties to abandon contracts and prospective relationships with MLW. WWE’s misconduct included disrupting every level of MLW’s business, including a major streaming deal for MLW which would have been transformative for the company.

MLW also allege in the complaint that in early 2021, after MLW announced that it was in talks with VICE TV to air MLW programs on VICE TV, a then-WWE executive warned VICE TV that WWE owner Vince McMahon was “pissed” that VICE TV was airing MLW programs, and that VICE TV should stop working with MLW, the VICE TV executive responded that WWE’s conduct was illegal and an antitrust violation, with the WWE executive responding that she could not control McMahon.

“WWE has been wrongfully depriving its competitors of critical opportunities for many years, but its latest conduct has been even more unconscionable,” said MLW CEO Court Bauer. “I think we speak for the rest of the professional wrestling world when we say that this anti-competitive behavior has to stop.”

WWE’s ongoing misconduct has hurt fans of professional wrestling and competition in the professional wrestling industry. Through this lawsuit, MLW seeks to recover its losses due to WWE’s interference and to enjoin WWE from future interference.

The case is captioned MLW Media LLC v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. MLW is represented by Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP.

The other key point in the suit is a streaming deal Bauer-teased that never came to be. The suit claims MLW had signed “a lucrative agreement” with Fox-owned Tubi in mid-2021, with a press release written for August release about a September-launching product. From the filing (via PWInsider):

“Prior to Tubi and MLW issuing the joint press release, WWE learned about the terms and existence of the License Agreement. On or about August 9, 2021, WWE executive Stephanie McMahon spoke with a Tubi executive located in California about the License Agreement. Ms. McMahon initially pressured the Tubi executive to deny MLW a time slot that would compete head to-head with WWE’s NXT programs on Tuesday nights. But Ms. McMahon ultimately pressured the Tubi executive and other senior executives at Fox to terminate the agreement in its entirety. Tubi’s affiliate, Fox, could lose WWE’s business or preferred content if Tubi did not acquiesce to WWE’s demand and terminate its agreement with MLW. On August 9, 2021 — the night before a planned press release about the Tubi-MLW deal — as a result of WWE’s pressure and interference, MLW received a letter purporting to terminate the License Agreement.”

The suit also alleges illegal labor practices by WWE, including attempts to poach MLW’s talent, and inducing wrestlers to breach their contracts and reveal confidential & proprietary information about MLW’s business.

Both parties issued statements to Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics regarding the suit:

MLW is asking the court for compensatory and punitive financial awards, and “injunctive relief to prevent WWE from engaging in anti-competitive and unfair business practices towards MLW.”