U.S. Soccer prevails in potentially ugly lawsuit

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Circle this as a story that never became a big deal – but certainly could have been.

ChampionsWorld is a defunct promoter of a series of friendlies in the United States. In 2003 and 2004, the ChampionsWorld Series drew boffo crowds for matches involving several Euro heavyweights.

And yet, swimming in debt and facing increasing costs of staging the matches, the company filed for bankruptcy in 2005.

So ChampionsWorld LLC field suit in 2006 against U.S. Soccer, claiming essentially that the federation and MLS conspired to put the company out of business.

The case had been moving through the courts until today, when a U.S. district court issued summary judgment in favor of U.S. Soccer and MLS.

There’s plenty of background on the matter from Soccer America here. (The article is two years old but still germane.)

U.S. Soccer today issued a brief statement:

Earlier today, Judge Henry Leinenweber of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer (MLS) on each and every claim brought by ChampionsWorld, a former international games promoter.

The ruling enforced a decision in July 2011 by the Court of Arbitration of Sport that as a national association member of FIFA, U.S. Soccer has the authority to sanction and charge fees for international exhibition matches involving FIFA-affiliated clubs and teams.

Championsworld had claimed that U.S. Soccer conspired with MLS to use sanctioning policies to drive them out of business.

I am no legal expert, but the ChampionsWorld series always left me feeling a little conflicted. On the one hand, the promoters’ ability to sign up teams, secure a venue and then charge fans to watch is nothing more than free market capitalism at work. But …

Something always seemed askew. Major League Soccer investors were pouring millions of dollars to build the pro soccer market here. They were doing the daily nitty gritty in terms of grass roots awareness and daily media nourishment. So it seemed somehow improper that promoters with no real stake in the game’s overall growth were planting crops on the fields that others had so dutifully worked.

Besides, ChampionsWorld or any other promoter never had an obligation to be mindful of the MLS or U.S. Soccer properties, so conflicts were always a potential issue.

Not that U.S. Soccer nor Soccer United Marketing nor MLS needs to control everything in and around the sport domestically. But in this case, it seems only fair that U.S. Soccer or MLS have some control, or at least the ability to sanction.

The U.S. courts apparently believe so, too.