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A federal jury in Boston has rejected an antitrust action against Major League Soccer and the United States Soccer Federation brought by players claiming that the defendants have conspired to establish a monopoly, restrain competition and keep down salaries. On Dec. 11, the jury determined that Major League Soccer does not have a monopoly in the market for professional soccer players because the players have the option of finding jobs in leagues outside the United States, noted lead defense counsel Michael Cardozo of New York’s Proskauer Rose. Because the jury found no monopoly power in the relevant market, it did not rule on the other antitrust charges claimed by the plaintiffs, Cardozo said. In 1993, the U.S. Soccer Federation selected Major League Soccer over several other applicants as the only major professional soccer league in the United States, said Cardozo. This selection was made final in 1995, and the league started in 1996. The league has teams in 12 U.S. cities, Cardozo said. Unlike most professional sports leagues, Major League Soccer was set up as a single limited liability company. All teams are owned by the league, said Cardozo; investors are given the right to own one of the teams. The league sets salaries for all players, he added. In 1997, eight professional soccer players sued the league and the federation, charging violations of antitrust regulations. The plaintiffs were certified as a class that year, said plaintiffs’ attorney Jeffrey Kessler of New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Fraser v. Major League Soccer, No. 97-10342 (D. Mass.). The plaintiffs contended that the process of selecting Major League Soccer as the only top-level professional league in the United States violated Sec. II of the Sherman Antitrust Act and that the league’s single-entity structure violates Sec. I. In April, District Judge George O’Toole dismissed the latter claim. The eight plaintiffs were seeking a total of $1.4 million, to be trebled. The plaintiffs will appeal the jury’s decision as well as Judge O’Toole’s rulings, said Kessler.

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