Bowl Game Producer Sues NCAA for Antitrust Violations

May 22, 2004

A Hawaii company that produces college football bowl games has sued the NCAA for antitrust violations, claiming that the NCAA’s rule requiring bowl-game operators to pay participating schools a minimum of $750,000 or 75 percent of gross revenue violated the law.
Aloha Sports Inc. (ASI), the former owner and operator of the Aloha Bowl, alleged in its complaint that NCAA violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and Hawaii Unfair Trade Practices Law as well as was responsible for breach of contract and intentional interference with contract and/or prospective economic advantage.
Started in 1982, the Aloha Bowl had been financially successful until the mid to late-1990s. It began struggling, according to the plaintiff, when the NCAA instituted its minimum payout requirement. This requirement, it claimed, prohibited it from negotiating payouts “based upon, among other things, quality, service and the geographic desirability of playing in Hawaii.”
ASI also identified three additional factors, two influenced by the NCAA, which hastened the bowl game’s departure to the mainland and eventually extinction.
First, it argued that the association’s requirement that the teams have winning records to participate in the game prevented a then-marginally successful University of Hawaii football program from participating in the bowl game. This dampened local interest in the game.
Second, it pointed to its contract with ABC and the network’s insistence that it play its game on Christmas Morning (due to the time difference with the mainland) “without the benefit of the local university’s participation.”
Finally, it claimed that the NCAA’s support of the BCA “dramatically changed the timeline for inviting teams to participate” in bowl games. Teams had less than three weeks notice to make travel arrangements, “making it cost prohibitive for many fans to travel to Hawaii on such short notice.”
The plaintiff noted in its complaint that it created another game, the Oahu Bowl, to better facilitate ticket sales. ESPN, Inc. agreed to broadcast the game, which each year would feature the University of Hawaii and an invited opponent. ASI claimed that the double-header was financially successfully, enabling it to meet the payout required by the NCAA. However, ABC required the two games be split in 1990. This, allegedly, forced the plaintiff to relocate the games to the mainland.
“The San Francisco Bowl (formerly the Aloha Bowl) never got off the ground because ABC and ESPN refused to televise the new bowl and effectively blocked plaintiff from negotiating with other media outlets for the rights to televise the reconstituted bowl,” according to the complaint.
The NCAA then, allegedly, decertified the bowl, but advised the plaintiff it could re-apply the following year. Plaintiff did so, but was denied certification. Meanwhile, ASI claims the NCAA waived its own rules and in 2002 granted an initial certification to the Hawaii Bowl, which is owned by ESPN.
The plaintiff’s other bowl game, the Seattle Bowl, was also decertified. ASI claimed this was a violation of the NCAA’s Post-Season Football Handbook and that it also caused financial damage in that the plaintiff had just signed an agreement with Pro Sports Entertainment giving that company control ASI. The plaintiff placed the value of the agreement at more than $1 million.
ASI claimed the NCAA implicated itself in last season’s handbook by eliminating the minimum payout requirement, which was “the primary cause of plaintiff’s inability to sustain the Aloha and Oahu Bowls in Hawaii.”
The plaintiff is being represented by Frederick W. Rohlfing III, the owner of ASI, and David Kesselman of Los Angeles-based Blecher & Collins, P.C., the firm that won the case that allowed the Oakland Raiders to move to Los Angeles in 1982.


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