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Federal judge dismisses Relevent Sports’ antitrust claim against US Soccer

Relevent Sports executive chairman Charlie Stillitano

United States-based international soccer promoters Relevent Sports has suffered yet another damaging blow in its repeated attempts to stage official international league matches on US soil.

Relevent is looking to put on official LaLiga matches in the US following a long-term partnership with the Spanish soccer league. A planned match between FC Barcelona and Girona at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium in January 2019 was cancelled after widespread opposition from various stakeholders.

In April 2019, US Soccer also denied Relevent’s application to host a match between two Ecuadorian clubs.

Last September, Relevent Sports filed an antitrust lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation in the Southern District of New York, alleging that the federation had conspired with global governing body Fifa and Soccer United Marketing – the commercial arm of Major League Soccer – to block official matches from foreign clubs being held in the States.

However, US District Judge Valerie Caproni has dismissed the antitrust claim against US Soccer, which was defended by international law firm Latham & Watkins LLP.

“Plaintiff alleges no facts to support the inference that, in adhering to the Fifa directive, USSF actually entered an agreement with Fifa to restrict output,” Caproni wrote.

Relevent now has until September 1 to amend its complaint.

“We are evaluating the decision, which gives us the option to refile the antitrust case and go forward, as well as pursue the tort claim in arbitration,” Relevent said in a statement. “We’re considering what our options are.”

It is the latest blow for Relevent and LaLiga on this issue. Last November, a Madrid court opted not to grant permission for a match between Villarreal and Atlético Madrid to be held in Miami.

In February, Fifa’s Stakeholders Committee recommended that soccer’s world governing body should formally ban teams from playing official league matches outside of their home territories.

In March, meanwhile, a Madrid court dismissed an appeal from LaLiga against the Spanish Football Federation’s (RFEF) decision not to authorize the Girona-FC Barcelona game in Miami. The Magistrate of Madrid’s Commercial Court No.12 ruled that the RFEF did not engage in unlawful conduct by not facilitating the match.

It is also the latest legal victory for US Soccer this year. In February, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Fifa was not legally required to enforce promotion and relegation in the US soccer pyramid.

In May, a federal judge dismissed key parts of the US women’s national team’s wage discrimination lawsuit against the federation. This bitter lawsuit has since been appealed by the players, though it appears that a settlement will be sought between the two parties.

Another legal battle with the US Soccer Foundation over trademarks was settled in May.