Major League Wrestling is starting a court fight with WWE.
The Mamaroneck-based promotion, run by former WWE writer Court Bauer, announced it filed an antitrust lawsuit against WWE in California federal court on Tuesday based on alleged attempts by Vince McMahon’s company to interfere in MLW’s contracts and business process. MLW claims WWE pressured third parties to abandon contracts and prospective relationships with MLW.
“WWE has been wrongfully depriving its competitors of critical opportunities for many years, but its latest conduct has been even more unconscionable,” Bauer, MLW’s CEO, said in a statement. “I think we speak for the rest of the professional wrestling world when we say that this anti-competitive behavior has to stop.”
The complaint claims that in mid-2021, after MLW entered into a “lucrative” agreement with the Fox-owned streaming service Tubi, WWE called an executive at the media company and asked it to terminate the deal. If not, WWE threated to stop doing business with Fox and pull WWE programing. Just days before MLW content was to begin airing on Tubi, the contract was ended, the complaint said. MLW said in the complaint that this led to event cancellations and delays, “resulting in a 40 percent drop in ticket sales within weeks.”
WWE agreed in 2018 to a five-year, $1 billion deal with Fox for the broadcast rights to “Friday Night SmackDown,” and reached a deal with the company to air select old WWE pay-per-views during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, according to the complaint, WWE interfered in another potential business relationship, when then-WWE senior vice president Susan Levison called a VICE executive to say McMahon was “pissed” that the network was entering into an agreement in May 2021 to air MLW programing and that it should end that relationship. The VICE exec then told Levinson that they thought what she was doing was “illegal” and “was probably an antitrust violation,” according to the suit. The claim alleges that the call resulted in VICE withdrawing from negotiations and only airing one MLW program: “MLW Fightland” on Oct. 2.
WWE disputed the accusations made in the lawsuit.
“WWE believes these claims have no merit and intends to vigorously defend itself against them,” the company said in a statement.
MLW also claims WWE aired footage of an MLW wrestler during one of its broadcasts, without authorization, and encouraged MLW wrestlers to breach their contracts by disclosing confidential business information.
MLW is suing for compensatory, treble and exemplary damages and ‘injunctive relief barring WWE from inflicting further irreparable harm.” The complaint claims WWE’s “egregious efforts” are an attempt to “destroy” MLW’s business and maintain its dominance of the United States broadcasting market for professional wrestling.
MLW, unlike WWE, All Elite Wrestling and Impact, doesn’t have a traditional television deal as the foundation for its revenue. The company relies move heavily on smaller domestic and international media rights deals. Its content still airs on beIN Sports and YouTube in the United States and the company had a previous relationship with DAZN.