Golden Boy’s antitrust lawsuit against boxing’s power manager Al Haymon is, for the moment, in the hands of U.S. Federal Judge John F. Walter. On Oct. 31, Haymon and his corporate entities filed motions for summary judgment, leading to a barrage of public disclosures including deposition excerpts and declarations from some of boxing’s key figures: Al Haymon, Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, Roberto Diaz, Eric Gomez, Michael Ring, Kathy Duva, Kery Davis, and Gary Shaw.
Judge Walter will soon decide whether there are any genuine disputes of material fact in Golden Boy’s case that should proceed to trial on Mar. 14 in Los Angeles. If he rules that no reasonable jury could ever side with Golden Boy, the case will be over.
From the bombardment of public filings over the past month, the strategies and arguments that each side is currently making and will make in the event of a trial are starting to take shape. At the most basic level, Golden Boy claims Al Haymon is attempting to monopolize the boxing promotion market and will use his power to harm broadcasters, sponsors, fans, and boxers. Haymon argues he is not a boxing promoter and is only looking out for his clients’ best interest as their manager by advising them to avoid “one-sided, long-term promotional agreements” from Golden Boy and other promoters.
The following summary explains what the case is about and what boxing fans might be hearing more of in the coming weeks and months.
Golden Boy Promotions and Bernard Hopkins are suing Al Haymon personally as well as his various corporate entities.
The defendants in this case are Al Haymon, Alan Haymon Development Inc., Haymon Holdings LLC, Haymon Sports LLC, Haymon Boxing Management, and Haymon Boxing LLC. Mr. Haymon wholly owns Alan Haymon Development which jointly owns Haymon Holdings along with Waddell & Reed, the asset management company which allegedly backed Haymon’s entities to the tune of $925 million.
According to Haymon’s deposition testimony, Haymon Sports is wholly-owned by Haymon Holdings and is the entity which runs the operations of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) as well as contracts with boxers for Haymon’s management services.
It appears that Haymon Holdings may have been known as KO Holdings in the past when it made a “hundred million dollar purchase” attempt of Golden Boy, according to deposition questioning of Haymon. It seems the deal fell apart due to the inability of the parties to agree on certain covenants, which may have included a non-compete clause for Oscar De La Hoya.
Golden Boy accuses Haymon of attempting to monopolize the boxing promotion market.
Golden Boy believes that Haymon has engaged in an anticompetitive “tie-out” with Haymon’s management contracts containing a provision giving him the right to approve the boxer’s promoter.
Golden Boy’s theory is one of monopoly leveraging; i.e., that Haymon was already a powerful boxing manager and is now trying to leverage his power into the promoter market in a way that will eventually harm fans, broadcasters, sponsors, and even the boxers themselves.
Haymon counters that he only works with legitimate, licensed promoters and adds that his companies waived the clause at issue giving him the right to choose his boxers’ promoter.
“Although Haymon Sports’ standard management agreement gives it the right to approve the boxer’s selection of a promoter, it has never exercised this right to require or coerce its boxers to use or not use a particular promoter.”
“[Haymon entities] have never sought to enforce and have agreed to waive the contractual provision that allows them to select the boxer’s promoter.”
The attorneys spend a good amount of time peppering deposition witnesses with questions about the traditional role of a promoter, which promoters they think are legitimate and which are “shams.”
Golden Boy’s attorney’s spent time trying to nail Haymon down on exactly how Haymon Sports interacted with television networks, sponsors, and venues. This would seem to be a triable issue of fact, but that may not guarantee a trial. Other facts could make it moot.
Golden Boy alleges that Haymon forced his boxers to refuse to deal with the promotion.
Haymon’s position is that he hasn’t outright refused to do business with Golden Boy – citing Alvarez (Golden Boy) vs. Khan (Haymon), Roberto Castellanos (Golden Boy) vs. Oscar Escandon (Haymon), and Leo Santa Cruz (Haymon) vs. Jesus Ruiz (Golden Boy) as examples since Jan. 1, 2015 – but rather he doesn’t believe it’s in his boxers’ best interests to agree to Golden Boy’s “unduly onerous” standard promotional agreements. In his declaration, he describes encouraging fighters to sign single-bout agreements instead of long-term promotional contracts.
In addition to the length of Golden Boy’s standard contracts, Haymon cites other undesirable elements such as automatic extension clauses and Golden Boy’s right of last refusal.
Haymon also alleges that Golden Boy changed its contracts at one point to try to prevent boxers from signing with him: “In fact, in what is clearly designed to prevent a boxer from retaining a manager such as Haymon Sports that may fully protect the boxer’s interests, during the Covered Period, GBP has added language in its promotional agreements that its boxers will not ‘retain, hire, consult with, include, or involve any person or entity as a manager, advisor, consultant or any type of representative … not previously disclosed to Promoter … without first obtaining the express written consent and approval of Promoter.’”
Golden Boy claims Haymon blocked other promoters from scheduling bouts at desired venues on favorable dates “so as to impair and destroy competition.”
Similar to the ongoing UFC antitrust lawsuit, Golden Boy’s venue blocking claims are probably the weakest part of its case. It claims Haymon locked-up desirable dates in major arenas to keep them away from Golden Boy and cites Matthysse v. Provodnikov as an example of the Stub Hub Center in Carson, CA allegedly being kept from Golden Boy due to a Haymon hold that was subsequently cancelled.
The idea here is that Haymon is allegedly “acting to deny [Golden Boy] access to elements essential to their business success.” But think of how many venues are suitable to stage a high-level boxing match in the United States. Golden Boy will have a hell of a time convincing anyone that the Stub Hub Center and other allegedly blocked venues are critical to its business success and that sufficient venue space isn’t available elsewhere.
Haymon also claims that putting multiple venues on hold is common practice in boxing and “[Golden Boy] admits there are numerous alternative venues in the greater Los Angeles area to hold such a fight and it has no evidence the Haymon Entities put holds on any of them.”
Golden Boy claims Haymon locked-up television networks with exclusive contracts.
Haymon responds that Golden Boy can’t be meaningfully foreclosed from access to television networks that it wasn’t using anyway. He claims HBO, Showtime, and PPV outlets are the ones that pay for content and never had exclusive agreements, and since May 2016 Haymon’s companies have waived the exclusivity provisions of their television agreements.
Golden Boy accuses Haymon of predatory pricing.
In the U.S., it can be illegal for a business to price its product too low and that’s exactly what Golden Boy is alleging. Instead of receiving a license fee from television networks, Golden Boy claims Haymon reversed “the ordinary flow of money from the network to the promoter” and began paying the networks through time buys to air boxing events.
“Such illegal television promotion results in deliberate and massive financial loss to the Haymon Defendants – temporarily,” Golden boy states in its Second Amended Complaint. “Once they have achieved the monopoly position they seek in the market for promoting the bouts of Championship-Caliber Boxers in the United States, which will cause [Golden Boy] and other legitimate promoters even greater financial harm, [Haymon entities] will exercise their monopolistic power in that market to reverse the financial arrangements, recoup their losses and reap massive profits, far in excess of their temporary losses, by paying less to boxers and charging supracompetitive prices to networks, sponsors and consumers.”
The move from charging television networks to paying them can be thought of as offering an extremely low, or negative, price. In terms of the losses due to Haymon’s low pricing, Golden Boy’s expert witness, Dr. Robert Knueper, writes that “Haymon has lost substantially more money than the hundreds of millions of dollars he anticipated when forming this risky business venture.”
In his declaration, Haymon argues that time buys weren’t part of the original PBC plan but when they approached NBC in 2014 about putting boxing back on network television, it “wholly disregarded this proposal and indicated that it had absolutely no intention of paying a rights fee for boxing.” In his deposition, Haymon mentions an early meeting with NBC in which Michael Ring (who describes himself as chief of staff or general counsel) is “dismissed, turned away, laughed at, and told that he must be crazy.”
The difficult part for Golden Boy will be showing that Haymon has a dangerous probability of recouping his massive losses later. While reversing the flow of network/promoter payments may hurt Golden Boy, it can help consumers if it increases the output of boxing content on free or cable television. Golden Boy will have to show a high likelihood or “dangerous probability” of bad things coming down the line in the boxing industry (i.e., recoupment) or it will surely lose its predatory claim.
Haymon claims Golden Boy’s expert witness didn’t even perform a recoupment analysis.
The term “championship-caliber boxer” is hotly disputed.
It’s curious that referee Robert Boyd told Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev that they were “world-class, championship-caliber fighters” prior to their highly-anticipated matchup on Nov. 19.
According to Haymon’s expert witness and former SVP at HBO Sports, Kery Davis, he’s never heard the term used in business dealings.
But Golden Boy’s expert witness Dr. Knueper uses the term to describe and a boxer who’s economically valuable to a promoter, and gives it a very specific definition.
As the plaintiff, Golden Boy wants the market for boxing manager and promoter services to be small, so it looks like Al Haymon dominates them. They have a natural incentive for the term “championship-caliber” to include a small subset of boxers. As the defendant, Haymon wants those same markets to be large so his boxers take up a smaller share and he doesn’t look too dominant. Haymon’s expert describes Dr. Knueper as using “levels of filters that are all improper.”
Dr. Knueper’s interest is in the markets for managing and promoting championship-caliber boxers, and he focuses on being U.S.-managed and -promoted. This leads to an interesting exchange with a rambling answer when Haymon’s attorneys ask Dr. Knueper under oath if Haymon Boxing relocated to Canada, would he all the sudden be outside the relevant market in this case?
Other things learned from the trove of documents.
Haymon claims to not have collected management or advisor fees for his PBC boxers. It’s been suggested that Haymon may be profiting by collecting fees from what Gary Shaw describes as Haymon’s “obscene[ly]” paid boxers while simultaneously blowing through Waddell’s cash. Haymon’s declaration under oath runs counter to this suggestion.
Internal documents seem to suggest that Haymon employees had concerns early on with the PBC’s performance and marketing. In May 2015 – less than two months after the first PBC event – Ryan Caldwell, the former Waddell fund manager who went on to become COO of the PBC, describes “struggling for awareness because all we are doing is putting some fights on TV and advertising to an audience that watches boxing anyway and trying to convince them to tune it.” Michael Ring seems to suggest a fresh brand relaunch “and re-tell our entire story.”
[Writer’s Note: Bloody Elbow redacted all e-mail addresses.]
In a number of documents, Al Haymon appears to be referred to as “the King.”
The PBC appears to have been created with the goal of making a league-like structure in boxing. This could be the Phase II described in Michael Ring’s e-mail above. In his deposition, Haymon describes discussions with Waddell & Reed of a “league-like model and the idea of a league and the idea of rights fees for a league as the crucial element of making this project work.”
In Michael Ring’s deposition, he reveals that one possibility for eventually flipping the PBC’s business model is for Haymon Sports to convert to a promoter where boxers would be paid a minimum amount “and then there’s a sharing arrangement like the NFL.”
If the Haymon Sports model doesn’t get flipped by the start of 2018, then it probably won’t happen, according to Michael Ring.
When Haymon’s attorneys ask Golden Boy President Eric Gomez why there’s a contractual provision allowing it to terminate a boxer’s contract if they lose a single match, his answer is innocent and honorable, “Well, more than anything, it’s for the health of the fighter.”
And finally from Golden Boy’s damages expert witness, Gene Deetz, redaction sucks.
Last week, Judge Walter vacated a hearing on Haymon’s motions for summary judgment that was scheduled for Nov. 28. He’ll make his decision on the submitted filings and that decision could come at any time.
Should the full case, or parts of it, progress to trial, the pressure will mount on Haymon to settle. Then again, Haymon’s positioning in this case seems to be on the stronger side based on the documents that have thus far been made public. The seemingly terrible performance of Waddell’s alleged investments into Haymon’s entities may end up Haymon’s best friend in his antitrust battle.
Paul is Bloody Elbow’s analytics and business writer and former provider of expert witness support in antitrust cases. Follow him @MMAanalytics.