Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

The New FIFA Intermediaries Regulations under EU Law Fire in Germany. By Tine Misic

I'm sure that in 1985, plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955, it's a little hard to come by.” (Dr. Emmett L. Brown)[1]


Back to the future?

Availing oneself of EU law in the ambit of sports in 1995 must have felt a bit like digging for plutonium, but following the landmark ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Bosman case[2], 20 years later, with all the buzz surrounding several cases where EU law is being used as an efficient ammunition for shelling various sports governing or organising bodies, one may wonder if in 2015 EU law is to be “found in every drug store” and the recent cases (see inter alia Heinz Müller v 1. FSV Mainz 05, Daniel Striani ao v UEFA, Doyen Sports ao v URBSFA, FIFA, UEFA) [3] cannot but invitingly evoke the spirit of 1995.

One of the aforementioned cases that also stands out pertains to the injunction decision[4] issued on 29 April 2015 by the Regional Court (Landesgericht) in Frankfurt am Main (hereinafter: the Court) in the dispute between the intermediary company Firma Rogon Sportmanagement (hereinafter: the claimant) and the German Football Federation (Deutschen Fußball-Bund, DFB), where the claimant challenged the provisions of the newly adopted DFB Regulations on Intermediaries (hereinafter: DFB Regulations)[5] for being incompatible with Articles 101 and 102 TFEU.[6] The Court, by acknowledging the urgency of the matter stemming from the upcoming transfer window and the potential loss of clients, deemed a couple of shells directed at the DFB Regulations to be well-aimed, and granted an injunction due to breach of Article 101 TFEU. More...




Compatibility of fixed-term contracts in football with Directive 1999/70/EC. Part 2: The Heinz Müller case. By Piotr Drabik

Introduction
The first part of the present blog article provided a general introduction to the compatibility of fixed-term contracts in football with Directive 1999/70/EC[1] (Directive). However, as the Member States of the European Union enjoy a considerable discretion in the implementation of a directive, grasping the impact of the Directive on the world of football would not be possible without considering the national context. The recent ruling of the Arbeitsgericht Mainz (the lowest German labour court; hereinafter the Court) in proceedings brought by a German footballer Heinz Müller provides an important example in this regard. This second part of the blog on the legality of fixed-term contract in football is devoted to presenting and assessing the Court’s decision.


I. Facts and Procedure
Heinz Müller, the main protagonist of this case, was a goalkeeper playing for 1.FSV Mainz 05 a club partaking to the German Bundesliga. More...


Compatibility of Fixed-Term Contracts in Football with Directive 1999/70/EC. Part.1: The General Framework. By Piotr Drabik

Introduction
On 25 March 2015, the Labour Court of Mainz issued its decision in proceedings brought by a German footballer, Heinz Müller, against his (now former) club 1. FSV Mainz 05 (Mainz 05). The Court sided with the player and ruled that Müller should have been employed by Mainz 05 for an indefinite period following his 2009 three year contract with the club which was subsequently extended in 2011 to run until mid-2014. The judgment was based on national law implementing Directive 1999/70 on fixed-term work[1] (Directive) with the latter being introduced pursuant to art. 155(2) TFEU (ex art. 139(2) TEC). On the basis of this article, European social partners’ may request a framework agreement which they conclude to be implemented on the European Union (EU, Union) level by a Council decision on a proposal from the Commission. One of the objectives of the framework agreement,[2] and therefore of the Directive, was to establish a system to prevent abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term employment contracts or relationships[3] which lies at the heart of the discussed problem.[4] More...

UEFA’s FFP out in the open: The Dynamo Moscow Case

Ever since UEFA started imposing disciplinary measures to football clubs for not complying with Financial Fair Play’s break-even requirement in 2014, it remained a mystery how UEFA’s disciplinary bodies were enforcing the Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play (“FFP”) regulations, what measures it was imposing, and what the justifications were for the imposition of these measures. For over a year, the general public could only take note of the 23 settlement agreements between Europe’s footballing body and the clubs. The evidential obstacle for a proper analysis was that the actual settlements remained confidential, as was stressed in several of our previous Blogs.[1] The information provided by the press releases lacked the necessary information to answer the abovementioned questions.

On 24 April 2015, the UEFA Club Financial Control Body lifted part of the veil by referring FC Dynamo Moscow to the Adjudicatory Body. Finally, the Adjudicatory Body had the opportunity to decide on a “FFP case. The anxiously-awaited Decision was reached by the Adjudicatory Chamber on 19 June and published not long after. Now that the Decision has been made public, a new stage of the debate regarding UEFA’s FFP policy can start.More...

Policing the (in)dependence of National Federations through the prism of the FIFA Statutes. By Tine Misic

…and everything under the sun is in tune,

but the sun is eclipsed by the moon…[1] 


The issue

Ruffling a few feathers, on 30 May 2015 the FIFA Executive Committee rather unsurprisingly, considering the previous warnings,[2] adopted a decision to suspend with immediate effect the Indonesian Football Federation (PSSI) until such time as PSSI is able to comply with its obligations under Articles 13 and 17 of the FIFA Statutes.[3] Stripping PSSI of its membership rights, the decision results in a prohibition of all Indonesian teams (national or club) from having any international sporting contact. In other words, the decision precludes all Indonesian teams from participating in any competition organised by either FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). In addition, the suspension of rights also precludes all PSSI members and officials from benefits of any FIFA or AFC development programme, course or training during the term of suspension. This decision coincides with a very recent award by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in this ambit, which shall be discussed further below.[4]More...


The Brussels Court judgment on Financial Fair Play: a futile attempt to pull off a Bosman. By Ben Van Rompuy

On 29 May 2015, the Brussels Court of First Instance delivered its highly anticipated judgment on the challenge brought by football players’ agent Daniel Striani (and others) against UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations (FFP). In media reports,[1] the judgment was generally portrayed as a significant initial victory for the opponents of FFP. The Brussels Court not only made a reference for a preliminary ruling to the European Court of Justice (CJEU) but also imposed an interim order blocking UEFA from implementing the second phase of the FFP that involves reducing the permitted deficit for clubs.

A careful reading of the judgment, however, challenges the widespread expectation that the CJEU will now pronounce itself on the compatibility of the FFP with EU law. More...

A Bridge Too Far? Bridge Transfers at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. By Antoine Duval and Luis Torres.

FIFA’s freshly adopted TPO ban entered into force on 1 May (see our Blog symposium). Though it is difficult to anticipate to what extent FIFA will be able to enforce the ban, it is likely that many of the third-party investors will try to have recourse to alternative solutions to pursue their commercial involvement in the football transfer market. One potential way to circumvent the FIFA ban is to use the proxy of what has been coined “bridge transfers”. A bridge transfer occurs when a club is used as an intermediary bridge in the transfer of a player from one club to another. The fictitious passage through this club is used to circumscribe, for example, the payment of training compensation or to whitewash a third-party ownership by transforming it into a classical employment relationship. This is a legal construction that has gained currency especially in South American football, but not only. On 5 May 2015, in the Racing Club v. FIFA case, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rendered its first award involving directly a bridge transfer. As this practice could become prevalent in the coming years we think that this case deserves a close look. More...

20 Years After Bosman - The New Frontiers of EU Law and Sport - Special Issue of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law

Editor's note: This is a short introduction written for the special Issue of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law celebrating the 20 years of the Bosman ruling and dedicated to the new frontiers of EU law and Sport (the articles are available here). For those willing to gain a deeper insight into the content of the Issue we organize (in collaboration with Maastricht University and the Maastricht Journal) a launching event with many of the authors in Brussels tomorrow (More info here).More...

ASSER Exclusive! Interview with Charles “Chuck” Blazer by Piotr Drabik

Editor’s note: Chuck Blazer declined our official interview request but thanks to some trusted sources (the FIFA indictment and Chuck’s testimony) we have reconstructed his likely answers. This is a fictional interview. Any resemblance with real facts is purely coincidental.



Mr Blazer, thank you for agreeing to this interview, especially considering the circumstances. How are you doing?

I am facing ten charges concerning, among others, conspiracy to corrupt and money laundering. But apart from that, I am doing great (laughs)!

 

It is good to know that you have not lost your spirit. And since you’ve been involved in football, or as you call it soccer, for years could you please first tell us what was your career at FIFA and its affiliates like?

Let me see… Starting from the 1990s I was employed by and associated with FIFA and one of its constituent confederations, namely the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). At various times, I also served as a member of several FIFA standing committees, including the marketing and television committee. As CONCACAF’s general secretary, a position I proudly held for 21 years, I was responsible, among many other things, for negotiations concerning media and sponsorship rights. From 1997 to 2013 I also served at FIFA’s executive committee where I participated in the selection process of the host countries for the World Cup tournaments. Those years at the helm of world soccer were truly amazing years of travel and hard work mainly for the good of the beautiful game. I might add that I even managed to document some of my voyages on my blog. I initially called it “Travels with Chuck Blazer” but Vladimir (Putin) convinced me to change the name to “Travels with Chuck Blazer and his Friends”. You should check it out.

 More...



Financial Fair Play: Lessons from the 2014 and 2015 settlement practice of UEFA. By Luis Torres

UEFA announced on 8 May that it had entered into Financial Fair Play settlement agreements with 10 European football clubs. Together with the four other agreements made in February 2015, this brings the total to 14 FFP settlements for 2015 and 23 since UEFA adopted modifications in its Procedural rules and allowed settlements agreements to be made between the Clubs and the Chief Investigator of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB).[1] 

In the two years during which UEFA’s FFP regulations have been truly up and running we have witnessed the centrality taken by the settlement procedure in their enforcement. It is extremely rare for a club to be referred to the FFP adjudication chamber. In fact, only the case regarding Dynamo Moscow has been referred to the adjudication chamber. Thus, having a close look at the settlement practice of UEFA is crucial to gaining a good understanding of the functioning of FFP. Hence, this blog offers a detailed analysis of this year’s settlement agreements and compares them with last year’s settlements. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The O’Bannon Case: The end of the US college sport’s amateurism model? By Zygimantas Juska

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

The O’Bannon Case: The end of the US college sport’s amateurism model? By Zygimantas Juska

On 8 August, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in favour of former UCLA basketball player O'Bannon and 19 others, declaring that NCAA's longstanding refusal to compensate athletes for the use of their name, image and likenesses (NILs) violates US antitrust laws. In particular, the long-held amateurism justification promoted by the NCAA was deemed unconvincing.

On 14 November, the NCAA has appealed the judgment, claiming that federal judge erred in law by not applying a 1984 Supreme Court ruling. One week later, the NCAA received support from leading antitrust professors who are challenging the Judge Wilken’s reasoning in an amicus curiae. They are concerned that the judgment may jeopardize the proper regulation of college athletics. The professors argued that if Wilken’s judgment is upheld, it

would substantially expand the power of the federal courts to alter organizational rules that serve important social and academic interests…This approach expands the ‘less restrictive alternative prong’ of the antitrust rule of reason well beyond any appropriate boundaries and would install the judiciary as a regulatory agency for collegiate athletics”.   


Background 

The plaintiff, Edward O’Bannon, competed for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) during the 1991-1995 seasons. In the 1994-95 season, O’Bannon was elected MVP of the UCLA national championship basketball team and also received the John R. Wooden award as the nation’s most outstanding men’s basketball player.  

In 2009, O’Bannon saw his likeness in a video game authorized by the NCAA for which he provided no consent and received no compensation. In July 2009, he filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of current and former NCAA student-athletes against the NCAA, alleging that college football and men's basketball players should be allowed to sell their NIL to the NCAA.

The defendant, the NCAA, is an unincorporated organization consisting of colleges, universities, and conferences. The NCAA rules impose strict limits on the amount of compensation that cannot exceed the value of a full “grant-in-aid” consisting of tuition and fees, room and board and required books.[1] As such, the NCAA prohibits current student-athletes from receiving any compensation from their schools for the use of their NIL, suggesting that the whole college sport relies upon “amateurism”. To participate in NCAA athletics, however, the NCAA requires each student-athlete to sign Student-Athlete Statement (Form 08-3a), which grants the NCAA the right to use the athlete’s NIL to “promote NCAA championships or other NCAA events, activities or programs.”  


Arguments of the parties

Plaintiff  

O’Bannon’s complaint alleged that the NCAA’s college sports amateurism rules harmed student-athletes as it constituted a price-fixing agreement among FBS football and Division I basketball schools. Under antitrust law[1], O’Bannon asserted that the violation unreasonably restrains trade in the market by foreclosing current and former NCAA men’s basketball and Division I-A football (FBS) players from receiving compensation for the use of NIL. The NCAA accomplishes this unreasonable restraint of trade in part by requiring all student-athletes to sign Form 08-3a. Mr O’Bannon asserts that the Form 08-3a is used by the NCAA to mislead and compel uninformed student-athletes to forfeit their rights not to be compensated for their NIL.  

Claimant

 The NCAA put forth a number of procompetitive justifications for amateurism:

  • compensating athletes would negatively impact competitive balance among FBS football and Division I basketball teams;  

  • paying players would adversely affect the integration of academics and athletics on campuses. In practice, athletes would spend more time doing sports than studying;

  • restricting compensation increases output of its product and if lifted, schools might disregard Division I;

  • preservation of amateurism is essential to its core identity, as it protect the popularity of sport. The claimant cites the example of the Olympics, which are deemed popular because athletes are not compensated.  


The decision 

On 8 August 2014, the Court found that the NCAA is a cartel that exercises market power, fixes prices, and restrains competition. The NCAA, therefore, must allow schools to redistribute to athletes some of the money it generates by licensing an athlete’s name, image and likeness to companies. In her injunction, Judge Wilken issued that the NCAA is restrained from prohibiting an athlete from getting deferred compensation of $5,000 or less per student-athlete per year. The money is to be paid in a trust fund that could be tapped after college. Furthermore, the NCAA cannot cap the value of a scholarship below the full cost of attending college (which is few thousands more than the current scholarship).[2]

The Court rejected each of the NCAA’s pro-competitive justifications to defend amateurism. Wilken ruled that the NCAA failed to consistently adhere to a single definition of amateurism. In short, Judge Wilken put the longstanding model of amateurism (the core principle of college sport since 1906) at risk in a few sentences: 

The historical record that the NCAA cites as evidence of its longstanding commitment to amateurism is unpersuasive. This record reveals that the NCAA has revised its rules governing student-athlete compensation numerous times over the years, sometimes in significant and contradictory ways. Rather than evincing the association’s adherence to a set of core principles, this history documents how malleable the NCAA’s definition of amateurism has been since its founding.” 

Additionally, the Court also held that people would not stop watching college sports if players are paid.[3] The fans care about watching football, but not whether athletes are paid or not.

 

Analysis 

This ruling is a “game-changer” because the Court jeopardizes the long-standing fundamental principle of amateurism on which the whole economic and social system of the NCAA lies. Wilken had no use for the amateurism defence to justify the restraints on paying players. It is particularly ironic that the NCAA seems to be a victim of its own success. No one would have imagined at the time when the NCAA came to existence in 1906, that college sport would grow into such a big business.

Ironically, again, the NCAA was also a victim of its own witness. Daniel Rubinfeld, a prominent antitrust expert, claimed that NCAA operates as a “joint venture which imposes restraints” on trade. This confession is definitely reflected in the Court’s subsequent finding, suggesting that Mr Rubinfeld never denied that the NCAA restricts competition among its members for recruitment.[4] To make matters even more complicated, Mr Rubinfeld had called the NCAA a “cartel” in a prior microeconomics textbook: “The NCAA restricts competition in a number of important ways. To reduce bargaining power by student-athletes, the NCAA creates and enforces rules regarding eligibility and terms of compensation.” Nevertheless, he still considered that the anti-competitive restraint was lawful because it serves procompetitive purposes.

Despite the appearances, however, the situation is not as bad as it looks for the NCAA. It is true that student-athletes will probably be compensated in some form or another. Nevertheless, the cap of $5000 to the compensation could have been higher and it is to be paid to a trust fund. Furthermore, the NCAA can continue preventing student-athletes from endorsing commercial products or selling their NIL rights individually, as the NCAA and its schools have the right to protect them against “commercial exploitation”. Hence, it is likely that Judge Wilken did not intend to blow up the entire NCAA’s system, but to change it gradually. From the point of view of the NCAA, it would have been way worse if the Court had issued an injunction to enter in a collective bargaining agreements with student-athletes.[5] Nevertheless, the ruling opens a space for broader pervasive changes to college athletics in the future.

 

Appeal 

On 14 November, the NCAA appealed the judgment. The NCAA argues that a federal judge erred in law by not applying a 1984 Supreme Court ruling that the NCAA believes protects amateurism in college sports. The Supreme Court held that “athletes must not be paid” in order to preserve the character and quality of the product. Furthermore, the NCAA argued that other lower district courts have upheld the 1984 ruling.

In support of the NCAA’s appeal, fifteen antitrust-law professors filed an amicus brief. They argue that U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken “misapplied” the “less restrictive alternative prong” of the rule of reason when she found that the NCAA violated antitrust law. The professors added that precedents show that the Court overstepped its bounds. Furthermore, allowing antitrust courts to “impose their own views” could leave other organizations open to suit. They also argued that following Judge Wilkin’s reasoning in the O’Bannon case, a court could even “require compensation for Little League baseball players” at whatever level that seems ‘fair’ by a district judge.

 

What’s next? 

If the NCAA loses the appeal, the injunction will take effect the next recruiting cycle; it will affect athletes entering school after 1 July 2016. In such scenario, the ruling will open more space for competition between the schools, in the form of the design of compensation packages. It seems that the volcano did not erupt yet. However, the volcano might finally and irremediably erupt if the next legal battle against the NCAA is successful: the Jeffrey Kessler case. He seeks to remove all scholarship limitations imposed by the NCAA and not only be tied to the NIL.  Kessler aims to introduce a free market in college sport with players receiving salaries in addition to scholarships. In short, he wants to turn recruits into free agents.  An outcome in his favour would change US College Sport forever. I will keep you posted!



[1] O’Bannon v  NCAA, No. 09-3329  CW, at 19  (N.D. Cal. Aug. 8, 2014)

[2] Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C.A.  §1 (2011): “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal.”

[3] Cost of Attendance at Buffalo, for example, is $36,483 while Athletic Scholarship is $33,566. See http://www.ubbullrun.com/2014/6/25/5840110/full-cost-of-attendance-scholarships-what-does-it-mean-at-buffalo

[4] O’Bannon v NCAA, at 28-30.

[5] O’Bannon v NCAA, at 22.

[6] For example, in NBA collective bargaining agreement is the contract between the NBA (the commissioner and the 30 team owners) and the NBA Players Association that dictates the rules of player contracts, trades, revenue distribution, the NBA Draft, and the salary cap, among other things.

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