Soccer Business Bits: MLS Sues Black & Decker AND MLS in Minn?

Sports Business Daily is reporting that MLS has sued tool manufacturer Black & Decker over an alleged “ambush marketing campaign” by B&D division DeWalt.   MLS fans know that competing tool company Makita is a long time MLS sponsor, and the suit alleges that DeWalt improperly used MLS logs and materials to “confuse” hispanic fans into believing that DeWalt is a sponsor of the League.  We will pull the relevant information on the suit in the coming days from the Court website, but proving damages in such a claim could open up some privately held MLS business information to public scrutiny.  In order to prove they were damaged by the ad campagin, terms of MLS sponsorships will likely need to be revealed.  Because MLS holds this information so tightly, the discovery process in this suit could provide new access to MLS revenue and advertising information.

Makita first signed a three year deal with MLS (reportedly in the mid-seven figures), in October 2004.  The deal was Makita’s first sports sponsorship and was designed to target hispanic audiences.

At a recent Metro Sports Commission Meeting, Chair Paul Thatcher suggested that the Vikings are interested in bringing an MLS team to the Twin Cities.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t offer much more detail than that.  Minnesota has never been a top contender for an MLS team, despite a successful run at the lower rungs of American soccer.  Stadiums are being built in the State, but it seems unlikely that MLS will find its way to Minnesota in the near term.

American Soccer: Legal Stories of the Year

On a few occasions during 2009, we have discussed soccer stories that are legal rather than business related.  Because of sponsorships, contracts, television broadcast rights and a whole host of other reasons, the business and law are closely related in the sports world.  Here then, are our top American Soccer legal stories of the year.

Legal issues started in Seattle with allegations against Colombian striker Freddy Montero.  There were reports of possible rape or stalking complaints filed in Criminal Court.  After an investigation, the prosecutor declined to file charges and there have no further developments.  However, an unrelated civil complaint was filed against Montero’s strike partner, Nate Jaqua not long after the Montero saga came to an end.  The claim primarily sounds in battery, but includes graphic descriptions of alleged sexual conduct between Jaqua and the female plaintiff.  The plaintiff is a former college soccer player.  Other defendants include the Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS and the Houston Dynamo.

Importantly, this is a civil case, which means that while Jaqua does not face potential criminal penalties (e.g. jail), he does face potential financial damages.  In addition, the standard of proof is typically lower in civil court, where fact finders are asked to use a “more likely than not” or 51% standard.  Because this is a civil action, the plaintiff’s identity has been made public.  Moreover, this is an action that is being pursued by her and not the State of Oregon.  Reports indicate that the police have never investigated these charges.

DC United also got involved in a civil lawsuit, when two men filed a claim seeking monies for coordinating the VW sponsorship of the team.  Filed in the District of Columbia by a Brooklyn based attorney, the two Count Complaint alleges breach of contract and unjust enrichment.  The suit is in Federal Court based on a “diversity of citizenship” (i.e. the parties are from different states).  In order to be in Federal Court on a diversity, a claim must be worth at least $75k.

The gist of the lawsuit is that the plaintiffs (Jones and Mair) are alleging that DC United (Macfarlane Chang DC Soccer, LLC) breached a contract with the plaintiffs regarding the location of potential DC United Sponsors.  Specifically, the plaintiffs allege they were entitled to a 22-25% commission on the deal to make VW the presenting sponsor of DC United.

Finally, there is the ongoing dispute between NASL and USL over lower division soccer.  USL is claiming that three of its former teams broke contractual arrangements when they joined the new NASL.  We recommend MatchFit USA’s excellent coverage of this issue.   Also, check out this interview that I did with the good folks at the American Soccer Show about the legal issues involved in the dispute