The UFC is being challenged in court by multiple former fighters in an antitrust lawsuit. Bellator MMA, the UFC’s biggest rival, has been roped into the battle — and is now trying to do something to defend itself.
Bellator filed a lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court (Central District of California) attempting to block two subpoenas from the UFC that would force the release of “confidential” documents involving fighter contracts and negotiations, per public court records.
The UFC is asking for those documents as part of its defense against fighters Cung Le, Nate Quarry, Jon Fitch and others, who are suing them for an alleged violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The Sporting News was the first to report the information.
In the motion to quash or modify the subpoenas, Bellator attorney Philip Kelly writes that Bellator has produced more than 2,000 documents in response to the subpoenas, but the UFC wants more, seeking “sensitive, highly confidential information of no relevance to the underlying action.”
Bellator has provided documents identifying all fighters under Bellator contracts and “dates, locations, venues, athletes and purses paid for Bellator matches,” Kelly wrote. The motion continues that the UFC wants to see all Bellator athlete contracts and the negotiation history of those contracts. Both parties in the lawsuit are also seeking Bellator’s operations-wide quarterly reports, which are not public documents and “not relevant to the litigation,” per Kelly’s motion.
Bellator president Scott Coker wrote an eight-page declaration that was filed alongside the motion to explain why it would be harmful to Bellator to disclose such information. Coker wrote that Bellator contracts are not public and details are only known to a “very limited group of senior executives and the legal department.” The negotiation process of each contract is “highly confidential,” as well, Coker wrote.
The release of such information would “undermine Bellator’s bargaining leverage and ability to attract and retain the best athletes necessary to build a successful promotion,” Coker wrote. And, he wrote, Bellator would not be privy to any information regarding the UFC’s athlete contracts or negotiations, creating an unfair advantage for the UFC.
“For example, if individual athlete contract information were provided Bellator's competitors, they would be able to anticipate Bellator's recruitment strategics, outflanking its ability to sign the best fighters, anticipating its strategics in each respective weight class and geographic market, and compromising its strategic plans to develop the best overall promotion,” Coker wrote. … “Armed with Bellator's information, a dominant market player such as UFC could easily allocate its resources to one-up Bellator on critical deals, counter-program Bellator, and appropriate its business strategies, either to obstruct and stifle Bellator’s initiatives or to exploit its weaknesses.”
In his closing paragraph, Coker took a shot at the UFC, the promotion that bought Strikeforce from him and investors in 2011, writing that Bellator has seen UFC “buy out, marginalize, and even drive competitors from the business.”
“UFC is an aggressive and ambitious enterprise, and I believe that if UFC were able to gain an advantage against Bellator by receiving Bellator’s confidential information or even simply leveraging the disadvantage caused by disclosure of Bellator’s confidential information to athletes and others, it would certainly do so,” Coker wrote.
In their class-action lawsuit filed in 2015, Le, Quarry, Fitch and others are asserting that the UFC is a monopoly, systematically eliminating competition from the marketplace and suppressing fighters’ earnings in multiple revenue streams.