Supreme Court seeks Biden view on Relevent suit vs. U.S. Soccer

Nov 13, 2023, 11:21 AM ETReal Madrid played Barcelona in a summer friendly in Dallas but FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation have refused to sanction regular-season foreign league matches in the U.S. EPA/JUANJO MARTIN

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked President Joe Biden’s administration for its views on whether the justices should take up the U.S. Soccer Federation’s bid to bar a lawsuit accusing it of conspiring with FIFA to prohibit foreign teams from playing official matches in the United States.

The justices are considering whether to hear U.S. Soccer’s appeal of a lower court’s decision to allow the lawsuit by New York-based Relevent Sports to proceed. The lawsuit, filed in 2019 in Manhattan federal court against U.S. Soccer and FIFA, claimed the ban violated American antitrust law and sought to stop the two organizations from implementing it.

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U.S. Soccer is a member of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. Relevent is controlled by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

The United States hosts “friendly” games involving foreign professional teams, but the games do not count in league standings. A victory for Relevent in the case could open up the United States to hosting key matches featuring some of the marquee professional clubs and players from around the globe.

FIFA, with 211 member associations, announced its foreign match policy after Relevent arranged with Spain’s LaLiga in 2018 to host a regular-season match between Barcelona and Girona FC in Miami.

Barcelona eventually withdrew, and Relevent sued in 2019 over the issue in New York Supreme Court after the USSF refused to sanction the 2018-19 league match between Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil.

It later withdrew the state lawsuit and brought the claims to federal court, also in 2019, citing antitrust law.

U.S. courts have long grappled with how antitrust law applies to a member of an organization or association based on their membership and adoption of shared rules.

U.S. soccer has argued that it had no role as a FIFA member in forming the international organization’s 2018 policy banning foreign clubs from holding competitive matches outside the teams’ home countries.

A federal judge in 2021 dismissed Relevent’s suit, but the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March reinstated it. The 2nd Circuit ruled that U.S. Soccer could be held liable if FIFA’s rule is found to violate antitrust law because it had agreed to FIFA’s rules as a member of the international body.

In a filing to the Supreme Court, U.S. Soccer called the 2nd Circuit’s ruling “radical” and said the decision “imperils thousands of entities that belong to membership associations providing pro-competitive benefits across a wide range of industries.”

Attorneys for Relevent argued that the 2018 policy “explicitly restrains competition.”


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