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MORE DETAILS ON MLW VS. WWE LAWSUIT, MLW ALLEGES WWE COST THEM DEALS WITH VICE TV & FOX-OWNED TUBI

By Mike Johnson on 2022-01-11 20:15:00

PWInsider.com has acquired a copy of the lawsuit filed by MLW Media LLC on behalf of Major League Wrestling against World Wrestling Entertainment earlier today before the United States District Court, Northern District of California.

The 19-page lawsuit filed by MLW alleges intentional interference with contractual relations, intentional interference with prospective economic relations, a violation of the Sherman Antitrust act and more.

MLW states they are filing the lawsuit before the court because of “the egregious efforts of professional wrestling company WWE to destroy its competitor MLW’s business and maintain its dominance of the U.S. broadcasting market for professional wrestling by unlawfully interfering with MLW’s access to media markets and wrestling talent.”

The lawsuit claims that since purchasing WCW in March 2001, WWE has maintained control of 85% of the professional wrestling sphere, alleging that they is “maintaining its dominance through unfair and anticompetitive business practices, including poaching talent, misappropriating confidential information, interfering with competitors’ contracts and cutting off competitors’ access to their viewing audiences.”

The lawsuit states that with WWE’s popularity declining over the past five years “due to, among other things, inferior content”, the company has targeted MLW with “unlawful predatory conduct, including airing without authority MLW wrestling footage, inducing MLW wrestlers under exclusive contracts with MLW to terminate those contracts, and encouraging MLW wrestlers to breach their contracts with MLW by disclosing MLW’s confidential and proprietary business information.”

MLW's lawsuit alleged two major examples of WWE “unlawfully” interfering with MLW’s business that have damaged the value of Major League Wrestling as a company:

TUBI STREAMING DEAL

MLW alleges in the lawsuit that WWE stepped in and caused the demise of a “lucrative agreement with” FOX-owned streaming service Tubi.TV, stating that Tubi signed a deal with MLW in mid-2021….until WWE allegedly stepped in. 

MLW’s lawsuit states that the agreement between Tubi and MLW, “would have had a profound impact on MLW’s business by giving it exposure to Fox’s broad television and NFL football audience, further positioning MLW for future media deals.” but after “WWE found out about the agreement, WWE contacted a Tubi executive located in Tubi’s headquarters in San Francisco and threatened that if Tubi did not terminate the MLW contract, WWE would cease doing business with Fox and would pull important WWE programs from Fox platforms. Soon thereafter, and just days before MLW content was to begin airing on Tubi, the MLW contract was terminated, resulting in substantial losses to MLW and harm to consumers, including in California.”

According to the lawsuit, MLW was to launch on Tubi on 9/11/21 with an official press release set to announce the deal on 8/10/21.  This would have been around the time MLW teased a major announcement that was pushed back and back until never actually happening. 

MLW's lawsuit alleges:

 "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."

MLW’s lawsuit states that WWE’s “wrongful interference” in the Tubi agreement reversed Major League Wrestling’s momentum with fans, alleging that the loss of the deal cut off “MLW’s access to a broader fan base” and led to MLW live event cancellations and delays during a time period that MLW expected the deal to become something positive that could take MLW to the next level.  Instead, the issues coming out of the loss of Tubi led to a “40% drop” in MLW ticket sales within weeks as well as a “substantial decline” in the value of the company itself.

MLW claimed that WWE's alleged interference has all but put the promotion on the path to financial ruin, citing:

"As a result of WWE’s interference, MLW has lost a critical platform to air its new programs. It can take months, if not years, to find such a platform. Although MLW had been offering and still offers its content for streaming on YouTube, that does not afford it a meaningful audience, and MLW receives no fees for the rights to its content and marketing support which are critical to its success as a business.

 In order to survive economically and meaningfully compete in the Relevant Market, professional wrestling companies need fair, competitive access to media rights partners. As a result of WWE’s interference with MLW’s ability to retain media rights, MLW’s brand recognition has declined and will continue to decline, it has lost and will continue to lose its valuable talent, and its business will be destroyed."

VICE TV

MLW’s lawsuit also states that they entered into an agreement with VICE TV in May 2021 that saw Vice agree to air “archival footage” (old MLW Underground episodes) and that MLW and VICE became “engaged in negotiations to expand the agreement to include the broadcasting of new licensed programs”, the first of which would have been the October 2021 Fightland special, headlined by Hammerstone vs. Jacob Fatu.

Instead, MLW alleges that WWE caused the end of their negotiations with VICE, citing:

“When WWE found out about the MLW/VICE agreement, its Senior Vice President, Susan Levison, called a VICE executive to tell him that WWE’s owner, Vince McMahon -- notorious for his aggressive business tactics -- was “pissed” that VICE was airing MLW content and wanted VICE to stop doing so. The VICE executive told Levison that “I think that this is illegal what you’re doing” and that it was probably an antitrust violation, to which Levison responded that she could not control Vince McMahon. WWE had considerable leverage over VICE because professional wrestling was an important part of VICE’s programming and wrestling viewers were an important part of VICE’s audience. VICE therefore needed WWE, as the overwhelmingly dominant wrestling company, to ensure the success of VICE’s wrestling-related programs, which included a series, Dark Side of the Ring, often focused on WWE storylines based on input from WWE. WWE’s interference resulted in VICE withdrawing from negotiations over airing new MLW content and in VICE airing only a single MLW program.”

The lawsuit also claims that prior to the Vice and Tubi issues, back in 2020, there were additional issues, with MLW alleging:

*WWE attempted to poach MLW’s talent and aired footage of one of MLW’s fighters without authorization or consent.

*WWE also allegedly attempted to induce MLW’s wrestlers to breach their contracts and reveal confidential and proprietary information about MLW’s business.

MLW’s lawsuit states, “WWE’s pattern of predatory and exclusionary conduct has hampered competition in the U.S. wrestling market by depriving MLW and other competitors of distribution channels, and its conduct has harmed consumers by depriving them of content and keeping prices high.”

MLW claims that “As a result of WWE’s wanton misconduct, MLW has suffered and will suffer monetary damages and irreparable harm, resulting from, among other things, continued loss of brand recognition and valuable talent, posing a serious risk that its business will be destroyed.”

MLW has requested a jury trial and is seeking the following from the Court:

*A judgment in favor of MLW and against WWE.

*An award of actual damages and all damages that were a natural result of WWE’s tortious conduct, in an amount to be calculated at trial, inclusive of any pre-judgment or post-judgment interest accrued under California Civil Code.

*An award of exemplary damages for WWE’s oppressive and malicious tortious conduct, pursuant to California Civil Code.

*A declaration that WWE’s unlawful and predatory interference with MLW’s access to the media markets and wrestling talent was and is decreed a violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

*Injunctive relief to prevent WWE from engaging in anti-competitive and unfair business practices towards MLW pursuant to California Business and Professions Code.

*Injunctive relief to prevent WWE from engaging in anti-competitive and unfair business practices towards MLW pursuant to Sections 4 and 16 of the Clayton Antitrust Act, 15.

*An award of treble the amount of MLW’s damages resulting from its antitrust injuries to be proven at trial in accordance with Section 4 of the Clayton Antitrust Act.

*An award of MLW’s costs and expenses of litigation, including attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees, in accordance with Section 4 of the Clayton Antitrust Act, 

*Interest.

*Such other relief as the Court deems just and proper.

MLW has already filed to have certain documents related to contractual information sealed from the public.  Parts of the lawsuit related to the Tubi deal were redacted.

As noted earlier, PWInsider.com has reached out to WWE for comment.  Obviously, they have not officially responded to before the court.

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