Judge Expresses Skepticism On Merits Of ATP-Hamburg Case
By Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer, SportsBusiness Journal
Judge Expresses Skepticism Regarding Merits Of ATP-Hamburg Case
The judge overseeing the ATP antitrust trial yesterday expressed great skepticism regarding the merits of the case, and said he came close to striking the testimony of the plaintiff's key economic witness, which he said would have all but ended the trial. The eight-person jury is meeting for the first time today to deliberate on what is now a 12-day-old trial. The organizers of the Hamburg, Germany, event are suing the ATP for planning to demote the event as part of the circuit's new calendar format.
In striking all but the core antitrust charge from Hamburg's case yesterday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Sleet told counsel before the jury entered the room, "The plaintiffs describe the alleged violations in this case as classic per se [antitrust] violations. In this Court's judgment, that label does not fit so neatly as they would like. The complexity of these particular arrangements, the peculiar industry of sports, and the ambiguity of the bounds of the relevant market, all counsel against treating the business practices in dispute here as per se violations of antitrust law." Only if top-tier professional tennis is considered separate and alone from the rest of the sports and spectator universe could there be perhaps a violation, Sleet said.
And he said he had thought long and hard about striking the testimony of Andrew Zimbalist, the plaintiff's key economic witness who brought an outline of his questions to the stand, which violated court protocol. Instead, Judge Sleet instructed the jury that they could take into account this breach in determining Zimbalist's credibility.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM CLOSING ARGUMENTS: Meanwhile, the two sides offered their closing arguments, with Hamburg's lawyer, Rob MacGill, describing the case as not a classic antitrust one because the consumers were tournaments, and not fans. The Hamburg argument is that the ATP has monopolized the use of players, and the consumers of those players, tournaments, have a right to sue. MacGill argued the ATP is not a league, but 63 separate tournaments that compete against one another. Defense lawyer Brad Ruskin countered that what Hamburg alleges is simply how any league or circuit operates, and that the ATP events work together on many levels. He also took a swipe at the plaintiffs, noting that several German Tennis Federation officials, and one from the Qatar Tennis Federation, which owns 25% of the Hamburg event, left the court after their testimony was done. By contrast, the ATP officials stayed through until the end. However, after the plaintiffs objected, the judge instructed the jury to disregard this part of Ruskin's closing argument. Ruskin blasted Hamburg for having a sense of entitlement when he argued other events were more worthy of the top-tier status, by the basis of attendance, TV ratings and geographic location. In fact, he called Hamburg's argument that the ATP had conspired to move tournaments around in an effort to demote the German stop as an example of the event's self-inflated thinking that it was at the center of the ATP's strategy.
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