Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Youth Hockey League’s Exclusive Participation Rule Could Be Anticompetitive

This posting was written by Jeffrey May, Editor of CCH Trade Regulation Reporter.

A for-profit youth hockey program adequately alleged monopolization and attempted monopolization claims against a local district of USA Hockey, the national governing board for amateur hockey, the federal district court in Minneapolis has ruled.

The complaining youth program challenged the local district's adoption of an "outside league rule," which prohibited players from participating in competing hockey leagues. The local district's motion to dismiss the monopoly claims was denied; however, the court rejected conspiracy claims.


The complaining program pled sufficient facts to state facially plausible monopoly claims that the defendants engaged in anticompetitive behavior under either an actual exclusion or market power test, according to the court.

The complaining program provided numerous affidavits of parents who withdrew their children from its programming as a result of the outside league rule. It also noted decreased enrollment in its leagues, losing up to 40 players as a result of the rule.

While these events might have been attributable to other factors, such as the downturn in the economy, along with the withdrawal of players already registered and who forfeited deposits, these facts alleged detrimental effects sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, the court ruled.

Attempted Monopolization

Dismissal of the attempted monopolization claim was also denied. In order to state a claim of attempted unlawful monopolization, a plaintiff had to allege (1) a specific intent by the defendant to control prices or destroy competition; (2) predatory or anticompetitive conduct undertaken by the defendant directed to accomplishing the unlawful purpose; and (3) a dangerous probability of success.

Regarding specific intent, the complaining program alleged that the motive behind the rule was to prevent it from “taking” players from the defendants. Although the defending league’s stated purpose for the rule was to avoid scheduling conflicts and to prevent player fatigue, certain organizations that arguably would have caused such issues were exempted from the rule. Finally, the withdrawal of players from the complaining program, citing the rule, adequately alleged a dangerous probability of success.


Conspiracy claims were not adequately alleged, however. The court found that the defendants should be considered part of a “unilateral actor.” The associations within the district did not compete and were deemed a “single economic actor.” Moreover, Minnesota Hockey, the state arm of the national hockey governing board, and the local district were incapable of conspiring.

The May 12 decision, Minnesota Made Hockey, Inc. v. Minnesota Hockey, Inc., is reported at 2011-1 Trade Cases ¶77,453.

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