It’s bad news not just for shareholders—both companies’ stocks have taken a nose-dive—but also for a small army of antitrust lawyers waiting in the wings.
For prior antitrust work, T-Mobile tapped Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Wiley Rein, and Sprint turned to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
Japanese Internet and telecommunications group SoftBank Corp. used Morrison & Foerster when it bought a 78 percent stake in Sprint Nextel in 2013.
Each of these firms has been noticeably absent to date in the feeding frenzy of telecom merger work this summer surrounding Comcast Corp.’s $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable and AT&T Inc.’s $49 billion deal for DirecTV, according to filings with Federal Communications Commission.
Cleary partner George Cary confirmed that his firm had been advising T-Mobile, and Skadden partner Steven Sunshine likewise confirmed representation of Sprint. Wiley Rein founder Richard Wiley and Morrison & Foerster partner Jeff Jaeckel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Still, although the lawyers might find themselves with unexpected time on their hands, it’s almost certainly better than losing spectacularly before regulators (as in this 2011 Washington Post piece, “When deals go bad, how much of the blame lies with the legal team?”).
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement applauded Sprint’s decision to call off the deal, which would have united the third and fourth largest wireless providers. “Four national wireless providers is good for American consumers,” he said. “Sprint now has an opportunity to focus their efforts on robust competition.”
A Sprint spokesperson in an email neither confirmed nor denied reports that the deal was dead—or that it ever existed. “A Sprint-T-Mobile transaction has been speculated on by the media however Sprint has never announced any transaction or possible transaction between the two companies,” Roni Singleton said in a statement. “Sprint’s focus, moving forward under [new CEO Marcelo] Claure’s leadership, is to make Sprint the most successful wireless carrier in the U.S.”
For Sprint, it’s a case of being hoisted by its own petard. When AT&T unsuccessfully tried to buy T-Mobile in 2011, Sprint was one of the most outspoken opponents, arguing that the combination promised “less choice for consumers and higher prices.”
The company even filed its own private antitrust suit to halt the merger. The aggressive posturing left Sprint in the uncomfortable position now of trying to explain why its purchase of T-Mobile didn’t raise the same concerns.
As American Antitrust Institute president Albert Foer put it in a Jan. 7 letter to Wheeler and DOJ Antitrust Chief William Baer, “Federal regulators would be wise to heed Sprint’s own words in opposition to the AT&T/T-Mobile merger: “‘the alleged consumer benefits are at best illusory and … the actual impact of the takeover would be higher prices, less choice, and less innovation.’ ”
Contact Jenna Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jgreenejenna.