Another week, another lawsuit to add to the books. Relevent Sports is a business which promotes international soccer matches around the world, including the summer preseason competition International Champions Cup. That particular competition has been ongoing since 2013, and has featured some of the best teams in the world getting ready for their respective regular seasons.
In recent years, Relevent has wanted to get into the business of bringing regular season games, and international competitions to the United States, the most high-profile of which was the final of the 2018 Copa Libertadores, which couldn’t be held in Argentina due to fan violence. According to the complaint, Relevent approached the USSF about hosting the game in the United States, but the Federation refused to consider it.
That’s not the crux of this lawsuit, however. This case has to do with another attempt to bring a regular-season game stateside, and the Federation’s alleged attempts to block or slow-walk the application from Relevant Sports. So, let’s get into it.
As mentioned above Relevent Sports brings a lot of international soccer to the United States, the most well-known of which is the International Champions Cup. They’ve also tried to bring in regular season games from other countries, but as yet have not been successful. This lawsuit is about their most recent attempt. In March 2019, they applied to bring a regular season game between two Ecuadorian teams: Barcelona Sporting Club and Guayaquil City FC.
It should be noted that Relevent Sports is owned by Stephen Ross, who also owns Hard Rock Stadium, where the Miami Dolphins play.
According to the complaint, this would have been the first foreign regular season game to be played here in the United States. Obviously, there have been hundreds of preseason friendlies played here over the years, but a regular season game isn’t something that has happened for one reason or another.
From there, Relevent argues they submitted their application, along with the required fees and performance bonds, and waited for approval from the Federation. Actually, they don’t even need approval, at least according to the complaint. Relevent argues that the Federation’s bylaws deem that unless the application is affirmatively denied for some reason, all applications should be approved.
Now, the process is a bit more complicated than that. Obviously, the Federation has more oversight over international games than just rubber-stamping any application that comes along, but Relevent argues that oversight is fairly limited by the Federations own bylaws.
So on April 5, Relevent submits their application to the Federation, presuming it will be granted on April 12, but on April 8th, they get an email from USSF’s Director of Competitions, Adrian Garibay informing them that t Charlie Stillitano was not listed as a FIFA Match Agent.
Also notice the warning about announcing the match. Relevent’s complaint says that this information from the Federation is entirely incorrect, and that Stillitano is a registered agent with FIFA, and that they sent all of the pertinent information to the Federation to resolve the issue.
I’ve taken a look at the exhibits furnished by Relevent, and they appear to validate that Stillitano was a verified FIFA Match agent, for what it’s worth.
From there, Relevent alleges they received a letter from the Federation’s chief counsel “indicating that the Match Agent issue would only be resolved when Mr. Stillitano’s name appeared on FIFA’s online list of Match Agents.” Additionally, the federation allegedly required Relevent to explain what “exceptional circumstances” exist to allow a regular season game to be played on U.S. soil (followed with another threat about promoting the game prior to receiving approval).
So everyone can probably see what’s going on here. Relevent at this point believes that the Federation has no interest in approving this match and that these letters are an attempt to prevent the game from happening.
Mirroring in some ways the NASL complaint versus the Federation and Major League Soccer, Relevent uses quotes by Don Garber (what did I tell him about opening his mouth?) against him to argue that the Federation and MLS are too tight and thus economically conflicted.
Because of this economic relationship, and in light of the fact that Relevent doesn’t believe there is any basis to deny their application, they conclude that the Federation is attempting to reject this application to protect MLS.
Finally, Relevent is asking the Court to approve its application, and prevent the Federation from denying applications in the future without a lawful basis.
So this is going to come down to how the court sees the Federation’s regulatory authority on issues like these. The issue for the Federation seems to focus on the “competitive” nature of the game; preseason friendly competitions are fine, but when the stakes are real, they have tended to put their foot down. So the question is whether they are violating their own bylaws in this way. Should be an interesting legal battle.