On Tuesday October 31, North American Soccer League asked U.S. District Judge Margo K. Brodie to issue a preliminary injunction blocking a denial of its Division II application by the U.S. Soccer Federation. The hearing arose out of NASL’s September antitrust suit against USSF and its alleged co-conspirators Major League Soccer, Soccer United Marketing, and the United Soccer League. In September, NASL filed its lawsuit after USSF denied its application for Division II status for the 2018 season. USSF is sanctioned by FIFA as the governing body for professional soccer in the United States, with the power to grant division status using criteria, including size, geographic breadth, and growth. NASL alleges that its denial was to protect MLS’s position in Division I and unfairly favor USL’s growth in Division II.
Over the years, USSF has granted NASL waivers to remain a D-II league. When NASL lost four teams after the 2016 season, USSF gave NASL provisional D-II status for the 2017 season. However, when NASL failed to meet conditions of its provisional status (including expansion to twelve teams), USSF rejected NASL’s application for the 2018 season.
NASL raised two issues in its complaint: conspiracy and monopoly. Under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, businesses and other entities – including non-profit organizations like USSF – cannot conspire to unreasonably harm economic competition. Under Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, an entity may not intentionally act as an unlawful monopoly in a relevant market. NASL has stated that it is not seeking monetary damages. Rather, it is seeking to have its D-II status reinstated. NASL argues that it cannot continue to exist without D-II status. Furthermore, NASL contends that USSF lost its impartiality in governing soccer when it contracted with Major League Soccer to jointly sell marketing and media rights and split profits.
Ian Ferrell is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).