Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Competition Law and Sport (VII) Belgian Competition Authority investigates Pro League rules

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Back in November we devoted another of our posts on competition law and sport to a couple of cases on which I have been/am imvolved. The core issue in one of those cases -currently pending before the Court of Arbitration for Sport-  relates to whether, or under which circumstances, a total or partial closure of a league, the decision to eliminate some of its members, or a modification of the promotion/relegation rules governing the functioning of a given league (in that case, the basketball Euroleague)  might constitute a restriction of competition attributable to the league itself or to those of its members having voted for the new rules. 

Some of our readers have contacted us to inquire about our thoughts on a new belgian case that contradicts the idea (apparently shared by some officials within DG COMP) that such decisions cannot give rise to any competition concerns. Indeed, some weeks ago the Belgian Competition Authority formally expressed its concerns with the modification of the relegation rules of the Belgian football league (Pro League). (See here for the Press Release).

I won´t enter fully into the debate given that I´m not aware of the specificities of the case, and because my objectivity and freedom to express an opinion are somehow compromised. Nonetheless, I think  it´s interesting to remark that this is not the first time that competition rules have affected similar decisions. There is an interesting precedent in relation to rugby leagues in Australia , and in the US it has been taken for granted that, absent antitrust exemptions, decisions on the shrinking of a league or even on the relocation of clubs/franchises would fall under the scope of the antitrust laws (a clear illustration of this was the 1991 proposal for a Fairness in Antitrast in National Sports (FANS)  Act.  (I often wonder if they hire someone specifically to come up with “original” acronyms over there…)

It´s clear to me that decisions of the sort of those outlined above fall in principle under the scope of Art. 101(1). Accordingly, any assessment on their legality should maily focus on the application of the criteria laid down by the ECJ in para. 42 of the Meca Medina Judgment and on whether the four Art. 101(3) conditions are satisfied.

We´ll keep you posted on any developments.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

29 April 2011 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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