A Las Vegas federal court judge has postponed a hearing on two dispositive motions and instead ordered the questioning of seven expert witnesses in the antitrust suit that former fighters filed against the UFC.
In December 2014, former fighters brought an antitrust lawsuit against the UFC, alleging that the company used an “anticompetitive scheme” of long-term exclusive fighter contracts, coercing fighters to re-sign, and acquiring and shutting down rival MMA promoters to establish itself as the dominant presence in the MMA industry and suppress fighter compensation. The fighters claim that UFC formerly paid its fighters a higher share, but doesn’t have to anymore because it eliminated the competition.
The lawsuit noted that athletes in U.S. major team sports typically receive 50% or more of the revenue. The percentage of revenue that the UFC paid its fighters between 2010 and 2017 was “much lower” than athletes’ shares in major league sports and the percentages that were paid to fighters in other MMA promotions. The exact percentage of the revenue that the UFC pays its fighters is redacted from the public court filings, but there has been speculation that the fighters receive less than 33% of UFC revenues.
The lawsuit was filed by a group of former UFC fighters including Cung Le, Jon Fitch, and Kyle Kingsbury against UFC’s owner at the time, Zuffa LLC. In 2016, the UFC was acquired by Hollywood agency Endeavor for $4.2 billion.
The former fighters filed a motion to certify plaintiffs as a class. The UFC filed motions to keep out three of the plaintiffs’ experts whose opinions they claimed were “junk science.” The UFC also filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming that no reasonable jury could return a verdict for the former fighters. The motion for summary judgment contained 112 exhibits that included deposition transcripts, emails, presentations, and charts.
Judge Richard Boulware ordered a hearing on December 14, 2018 to determine whether to certify the class or dismiss the case.
At the hearing, Judge Boulware noted that they were not going to get to the class certification and summary judgment arguments. Instead, Judge Boulware addressed the joint motion to seal the records in the case and highlighted recent Supreme Court cases that affected the class-certification decision.
Motion to Seal Records
Both parties wanted to protect the fighters’ personal information and the confidential financial information of the UFC and third-party promoters. Judge Boulware noted that he was leaning toward protecting fighter information, but allowing certain UFC financial information to become public. Judge Boulware then set multiple evidentiary hearings on the issue of class certification to take place in early 2019.
Class Certification Issue
Judge Boulware noted the the recent Supreme Court opinions in Comcast Corp. v. Behrend and Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo had “changed the landscape” and said that he needed to question the experts further about the appropriateness of their methods of calculation.
The plaintiffs’ expert Dr. Hal Singer used a wage share method of calculation, which results in damages of $1.6 billion. UFC expert Dr. Robert Topel instead used an actual wage level method, which results in zero damages.
Judge Boulware requested three days of evidentiary hearings with Dr. Singer and Dr. Topel and additional hearing with additional experts from both sides: Dr. Paul Oyer, Dr. Alan Manning, Dr. Roger Blair, Dr. Andrew Zimbalist, and former UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. Judge Boulware also requested both sides to submit briefs on the appropriate class certification standard to use in light of the two recent Supreme Court cases.