MLW Files Antitrust Lawsuit Against WWE, Alleging They Sabotaged MLW’s TV Deals & More

Major League Wrestling has filed an antitrust lawsuit against WWE, alleging that WWE killed two of MLW’s TV deals and interfered with MLW-contracted wrestlers.

MLW Press Release

MLW put out this press release today:

MLW Files Anti-Trust Lawsuit Against WWE

San Francisco, CA – Jan. 11, 2022 – Professional wrestling company Major League Wrestling (MLW) (MLW Media LLC), filed a lawsuit today against World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE). The federal court antitrust lawsuit is based on WWE’s ongoing attempts to undermine competition in and monopolize the professional wrestling market by interfering with MLW’s contracts and business prospects.

As described in the complaint, WWE pressured third parties to abandon contracts and prospective relationships with MLW. WWE’s misconduct included disrupting every level of MLW’s business, including a major streaming deal for MLW which would have been transformative for the company.

MLW also allege in the complaint that in early 2021, after MLW announced that it was in talks with VICE TV to air MLW programs on VICE TV, a then-WWE executive warned VICE TV that WWE owner Vince McMahon was “pissed” that VICE TV was airing MLW programs, and that VICE TV should stop working with MLW, the VICE TV executive responded that WWE’s conduct was illegal and an antitrust violation, with the WWE executive responding that she could not control McMahon.

“WWE has been wrongfully depriving its competitors of critical opportunities for many years, but its latest conduct has been even more unconscionable,” said MLW CEO Court Bauer. “I think we speak for the rest of the professional wrestling world when we say that this anti-competitive behavior has to stop.”

WWE’s ongoing misconduct has hurt fans of professional wrestling and competition in the professional wrestling industry. Through this lawsuit, MLW seeks to recover its losses due to WWE’s interference and to enjoin WWE from future interference.

The case is captioned MLW Media LLC v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. MLW is represented by Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP.

WWE’s Response

WWE responded in a brief statement to media:

WWE believes these claims have no merit and intends to vigorously defend itself against them.

Lawsuit Document

A PDF of the lawsuit can be viewed here.

Two MLW TV Deals Allegedly Killed By WWE

MLW alleges in the lawsuit that WWE had two potential major MLW TV deals of theirs killed by threatening the networks. One deal was with the FOX-owned streaming network Tubi and the other was with Vice TV. Last year, MLW began teasing major announcements, but nothing ever came of them. MLW did announce in April 2021 that they were going to air on Vice TV, but just one MLW Fightland special aired on Vice in October 2021, and MLW says talks with Vice for more shows are no longer happening.

The lawsuit document contains more details. MLW says that they signed a “lucrative agreement” with FOX-owned Tubi in mid-2021 until WWE stepped in and threatened FOX. The lawsuit says that the deal “would have had a profound impact on MLW’s business by giving it exposure to Fox’s broad television and NFL football audience, further positioning MLW for future media deals. When WWE found out about the agreement, WWE contacted a Tubi executive located in Tubi’s headquarters in San Francisco and threatened that if Tubi did not terminate the MLW contract, WWE would cease doing business with Fox and would pull important WWE programs from Fox platforms. Soon thereafter, and just days before MLW content was to begin airing on Tubi, the MLW contract was terminated, resulting in substantial losses to MLW and harm to consumers.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Stephanie McMahon personally threatened Tubi: “Prior to Tubi and MLW issuing the joint press release, WWE learned about the terms and existence of the License Agreement. On or about August 9, 2021, WWE executive Stephanie McMahon spoke with a Tubi executive located in California about the License Agreement. Ms. McMahon initially pressured the Tubi executive to deny MLW a time slot that would compete head- to-head with WWE’s NXT programs on Tuesday nights. But Ms. McMahon ultimately pressured the Tubi executive and other senior executives at Fox to terminate the agreement in its entirety. Tubi’s affiliate, Fox, could lose WWE’s business or preferred content if Tubi did not acquiesce to WWE’s demand and terminate its agreement with MLW. On August 9, 2021 — the night before a planned press release about the Tubi-MLW deal — as a result of WWE’s pressure and interference, MLW received a letter purporting to terminate the License Agreement.”

As for Vice, the lawsuit says: “Under that May 2021 agreement, VICE agreed to air MLW’s archival footage, and the parties were also engaged in negotiations to expand the agreement to include the broadcasting of new licensed programs. When WWE found out about the MLW/VICE agreement, its Senior Vice President, Susan Levison, called a VICE executive to tell him that WWE’s owner, Vince McMahon — notorious for his aggressive business tactics — was ‘pissed’ that VICE was airing MLW content and wanted VICE to stop doing so. The VICE executive told Levison that ‘I think that this is illegal what you’re doing’ and that it was probably an antitrust violation, to which Levison responded that she could not control Vince McMahon. WWE had considerable leverage over VICE because professional wrestling was an important part of VICE’s programming and wrestling viewers were an important part of VICE’s audience. VICE therefore needed WWE, as the overwhelmingly dominant wrestling company, to ensure the success of VICE’s wrestling-related programs, which included a series, Dark Side of the Ring, often focused on WWE storylines based on input from WWE. WWE’s interference resulted in VICE withdrawing from negotiations over airing new MLW content and in VICE airing only a single MLW program.”

Other Allegations

The lawsuit also alleges that in 2020, WWE tried to poach MLW’s talent and attempted to induce MLW’s wrestlers to breach their contracts and reveal confidential information about MLW’s business.

MLW also says that as a result of WWE’s alleged interference, they face “a serious risk that its business will be destroyed.” The lawsuit says, “As a result of WWE’s wanton misconduct, MLW has suffered and will suffer monetary damages and irreparable harm, resulting from, among other things, continued loss of brand recognition and valuable talent, posing a serious risk that its business will be destroyed.”

What MLW Is Seeking

MLW is seeking the following in the lawsuit:

  1. Judgment in favor of MLW and against WWE;
  2. An award of actual damages and all damages that were a natural result of WWE’s tortious conduct, in an amount to be calculated at trial, inclusive of any pre-judgment or post-judgment interest accrued.
  3. An award of exemplary damages for WWE’s oppressive and malicious tortious conduct.
  4. A declaration that WWE’s unlawful and predatory interference with MLW’s access to the media markets and wrestling talent was and is decreed a violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
  5. Injunctive relief to prevent WWE from engaging in anti-competitive and unfair business practices towards MLW.
  6. Injunctive relief to prevent WWE from engaging in anti-competitive and unfair business practices towards MLW.
  7. An award of treble the amount of MLW’s damages resulting from its antitrust injuries to be proven at trial in accordance with Section 4 of the Clayton Antitrust Act.
  8. An award of MLW’s costs and expenses of litigation, including attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees, in accordance with Section 4 of the Clayton Antitrust Act.
  9. Interest; and
  10. Such other relief as the Court deems just and proper.