WWE lawyers respond to MLW antitrust lawsuit, say MLW is shifting blame for failure

In a new filing today, WWE ripped on the antitrust lawsuit Major League Wrestling filed against the leader of the wrestling industry in January.

MLW earlier alleged in a complaint filed in federal court in California, that WWE interfered and prevented media licensing agreements for MLW, including with Fox-owned streaming service Tubi.

WWE’s response describes a wrestling industry with ample competition and argues against the notion WWE has the ability to influence media distributors like Tubi, as MLW alleged.

“MLW has given up competing in the ring and chosen instead to compete in the courtroom,” WWE’s attorneys wrote.

WWE responded to MLW’s claim that chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon, leaning on WWE’s relationship with Fox, which airs Smackdown, pressured Tubi to end the deal with MLW the day before it was to be announced.

MLW has claimed WWE threatened to take all of its content off of Fox if Tubi didn’t terminate the deal with MLW. WWE says that claim is not only implausible but absurd.

“[T]he notion that WWE would jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in rights fees and breach its own contract with Fox in order to keep MLW off a streaming service makes no rational sense.”

WWE cited legal tests of the Sherman antitrust act and argued MLW’s allegations don’t suffice.

WWE says MLW failed to show WWE has monopoly power because MLW hasn’t established a relevant market that WWE dominates. WWE seems to argue there actually isn’t a wrestling broadcast rights market, there is just a broadcast rights market in which wrestling programs compete with a wide variety of programs.

“Obviously, the vast majority of content aired by national networks, cable, and streaming services is not professional wrestling. MLW cannot explain why other content (such as The Walking Dead, Survivor, 90 Day Fiancé, UFC, or NASCAR) is not a reasonably interchangeable substitute for scripted professional wrestling. To say that no reasonably interchangeable alternatives to professional wrestling broadcast rights exist is akin to saying no reasonably interchangeable alternatives to broadcast rights for zombie shows exist. It is, of course, absurd, and purchasers of broadcast rights for zombie shows would consider other programming as alternatives.”

MLW’s own narrative about other wrestling competitors undermines its argument, WWE says. Impact Wrestling and All Elite Wrestling have managed to get distribution deals with national networks. WWE even emphasizes AEW’s accomplishments.

“AEW’s success further undercuts MLW’s unsupported assertion that substantial barriers to entry exist,” WWE’s lawyers from law firm K&L Gates wrote and went on to reference MLW’s complaint which mentions Dynamite and Raw’s comparable viewership in the 18 to 49 age group.

And, “AEW also recently purchased another promotion, Ring of Honor, from Sinclair Broadcast Group, to operate as a secondary business,” WWE noted in a footnote that points out other companies haven’t had trouble increasing their content output.

WWE stated there are numerous networks that MLW could have potentially made deals with that WWE has no influence over, including Disney, Paramount, WarnerMedia, Discovery, AMC, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and others.

“MLW is complaining about the shadows cast by the boughs of a lone tree, while it stands in an otherwise open and extending field.”

What’s next?

MLW now has until April 22 to oppose WWE’s motion to dismiss, in which the company led by Court Bauer could further support its claims. MLW is being represented by lawyers from Kasowitz Benson Torres, including Marc Kasowitz, a former attorney for high-profile clients like Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly.

WWE has until May 16 to file a reply in support of its motion to dismiss.

Read WWE’s motion to dismiss

Brandon Thurston has written about wrestling business since 2015. He’s also worked as an independent wrestler and trainer.

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