Almost six years to the day that the Le et al v. Zuffa LLC antitrust lawsuit was filed a status conference hearing was held that lasted only a few minutes during which the Judge issued a ruling that surprised no one who had been following the case. Yet, as expected as his ruling was, it was perhaps the most important one to date in the case.
Judge Boulware declared that he would be granting class certification for the Bout Class, but would not be certifying the identity class, with a final written ruling expected early next week.
This was an important hurdle for the fighters to clear because this is not only an antirust case but also a class action lawsuit.
The Plaintiffs allege that the UFC engaged in a scheme to suppress fighters wages by attaining monopsony power over the market of top MMA fighters, by coercing fighters to sign long term, exclusive contracts, and acquiring and shuttering rival promotions. They allege that every fighter under contract with Zuffa from December 16, 2010 until June 30, 2017 was damaged by this scheme. The granting of the Bout Class means that the 1200+ fighters that were paid to participate in a match promoted by Zuffa during that time can be represented by the class representatives currently named in the case: Cung Le, Jon Fitch, Kyle Kingsbury, Brandon Vera and Javier Vasquez. The damages being sought for this group is, depending on the economic expert and the model they used, anywhere from $811 million to $1.6 billion.
The other group of plaintiffs, the Identity Class (representing those fighters whose images were used by Zuffa during this time in video games, merchandise, etc.) was denied class certification. The damages being asked for by this group (which overlapped to a large degree with the Bout Class) was much lower - $37 million according to Hal Singer in one report. The denial of class certification for this group removes Nate Quarry from the list of named plaintiffs, since he did not also belong to the Bout Class.
While today’s ruling by the court represented the clearing of a major hurdle by Plaintiffs, the case is nowhere close to being over. Following the filing of the written ruling the Defendants will have 3 weeks to appeal the ruling. The Plaintiffs will then have 3 weeks in which to respond to any appeal. Afterwards the 9th Circuit will have to decide to either deny the appeal or not. After that has been sorted out the Plaintiffs would then have to clear Summary judgment. It is only then that we would be looking at a trial.
Still, we can not exaggerate how important today’s ruling was for the Plaintiffs. It was practically the only feasible way for the case to continue. With the case continuing, now officially as a class action, the pressure on the Defendants. Zuffa faces not only the enormous damages the Plaintiffs are asking for, but the threat of seeing them trebled if they decided not to settle and lose in a trial.
Even more concerning for the UFC might be the risk of the Judge ordering injunctive relief. The Plaintiffs’ attorneys have stated they will also be seeking a remedy from the court, with their filings suggesting that a maximum 12 month or 24 month contract with no extensions, might be acceptable to them. Such a change to their contracts would completely alter how negotiations were conducted.