A federal court jury in Wilmington, Delaware has effectively dismissed an antitrust lawsuit brought by the German Tennis Federation against the ATP Tour.
The Federation had alleged that the Tour had engaged in “collusion” when the Tour announced restructuring plans last year that downgraded a Hamburg, Germany clay court event, which had historically been a tune-up for the French Open.
Drawing the ire of the plaintiff was what the Tour termed the “Brave New World,” a plan that required the top-ranked players on the Tour to play in each of eight Master Series 1000 tournaments. The objective of the restructuring, according to the Tour, was to enhance the fields in certain tournaments, thereby generating greater interest from fans, sponsors and broadcasters.
The Federation disagreed, arguing that it was anticompetitive and violated U.S. antitrust law.
Lawyer Robert MacGill, told jurors during the trial that the Tour’s actions signaled “the end of tennis in Hamburg.” A damage expert for the Federation, Gary Kleinrichert, testified during the trial that the current value of the investment in the Hamburg facility is about $31 million. The value of Hamburg’s membership is roughly $45.6 million, bringing total estimated potential damages to about $76 million.
Tour lawyers countered that Hamburg’s membership value was less based on a sale of 25 percent of the tournament to Qatar Tennis Federation. Qatar, which was a party to the lawsuit against the ATP, bought the minority interest in 2005 for about 3 million euros.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge Gregory Sleet supervised the trial, which lasted two weeks. The jury deliberated about nine hours before rendering a decision that pleased the Tour.
Calling the victory “validation,” ATP Tour attorney Brad Ruskin said it was “a great day for tennis, its fans, its tournaments and the players.”
Elaborating on that point, ATP Executive Chairman Ettiene de Villiers said the judge and jury in the case “have recognized and upheld our fundamental right to set and make changes to the ATP Tour calendar, changes that are necessary if we are to unlock the full potential of our sport.
“These are exciting times for men’s professional tennis with the ATP set to unveil the largest set of changes to the Tour since its inception in 1990. The 2009 ATP World Tour will deliver record prize money to players, provide unprecedented amounts of investment into new and existing stadia, vastly increase the promotion of the sport, and see increased support from existing and new sponsors. Finally we will have the world class Tour our players, tournaments and fans deserve.”
The case was Deutscher Tennis Bund v. ATP Tour Inc.; D. of Delaware; 07-cv- 00178
Attorneys of record: (for plaintiff Deutscher Tennis Bund) Comrie Barr Flinn, Karen Elizabeth Keller, LEAD ATTORNEYS, James L. Higgins, Young, Conaway, Stargatt & Taylor, Wilmington, DE; Hamish S. Cohen, Pro Hac Vice; Robert D. MacGill, Pro Hac Vice.
(for plaintiff Rothenbaum Sports GMBH) Comrie Barr Flinn, Karen Elizabeth Keller, LEAD ATTORNEYS, James L. Higgins, Young, Conaway, Stargatt & Taylor, Wilmington, DE; Jennifer W. Adams, Pro Hac Vice.
(for plaintiff Qatar Tennis Federation) Comrie Barr Flinn, Karen Elizabeth Keller, LEAD ATTORNEYS, James L. Higgins, Young, Conaway, Stargatt & Taylor, Wilmington, DE.
(for defendant) Tiffany Geyer Lydon, LEAD ATTORNEY, Carolyn Shelly Hake, Philip Trainer, Jr., Ashby & Geddes, Wilmington, DE.