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From Antitrust Law Daily, November 28, 2016

Antitrust claims over distribution of NFL playoff tickets properly dismissed

By Jeffrey May, J.D.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco has upheld dismissal of an antitrust suit arising out of the Seattle Seahawks’ restrictions on "primary-market" ticket sales for a 2014 NFC Championship game between the Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. The suit was brought against the National Football League (NFL) and the Seahawks by a 49ers fan and Nevada resident, who alleged that the geographic restriction on primary ticket sales to buyers with billing addresses in Washington and other nearby states and provinces injured him because he was forced to purchase tickets in the secondary market where prices were inflated (Williams v. National Football League, November 23, 2016, per curiam).

The district court rejected the Sherman Act claims on the ground that the plaintiff failed to overcome the initial step of establishing market power in a "relevant market." The appellate court agreed, noting that the complaining fan failed to allege a relevant product and geographic market, failed to allege that any agreement between the defendants had an anti-competitive purpose or effect, and failed to allege an attempt to gain control in any relevant market.

Clayton Act claim. The appellate court also upheld dismissal of a claim under Section 2(a) of the Clayton Act. The lower court had determined that dismissal was required because the game tickets were not tangible goods, but revocable licenses, rendering the Clayton Act inapplicable. The appellate court explained that Section 2(a) of the Clayton Act "proscribes price differences . . . where the effect of the differences may be substantially to lessen competition or tend to create a monopoly" and held that the complaining fan failed to allege facts sufficient to show that the effect of the Seahawks’ ticket distribution policy was to lessen competition or to create a monopoly.

Denial of leave to amend. Even though the plaintiff was acting pro se, the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the complaint without leave to amend. The lower court had concluded that proposed amendments would be futile.

The case is No. 14-36016.

Attorneys: John Everett Williams, III, pro se. Sarah Hale (Summit Law Group) and Jonathan D. Pressment (Haynes and Boone, LLP) for National Football League and NFL Properties LLC. John A. Goldmark (Davis Wright Tremaine LLP) for Seattle Seahawks, Inc.

Companies: National Football League; NFL Properties LLC; Seattle Seahawks, Inc.

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