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Vol. 8 - Issue 11
December 18, 2019


9th Circuit Rules In The Case Of the Century


It was billed as “The Fight of the Century.”  The hype was insane.  And so were the ticket prices.  But in the end, the May 2, 2015 fight in Las Vegas, between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, was a dud.  The Los Angeles Times called it “a yawner.” 

The fight went all twelve rounds and Mayweather won.  Afterwards, it was learned publicity that Pacquiao had suffered a serious shoulder injury a month before the fight.  So, as is wont to happen, lots of putative class actions were filed by pay-per-view customers, ticker purchasers and others who lost money against the fighters, promoters and broadcaster, HBO.  Indeed, an MDL was created for the suits. 

The theory of liability, as the court described it: “Plaintiffs contend that Defendants’ failure to reveal Pacquiao’s injury was deceptive and misleading, which deprived the public of the ability to ‘make an informed purchasing decision . . . based on all material facts.’  They claim that they would not have purchased their tickets, PPV, or closed-circuit distribution packages if Defendants had not made ‘misleading . . . statements related to’ or omitted material information regarding Pacquiao’s physical condition.  Plaintiffs contend that the public ‘would naturally believe—as they had been led to believe—that they were purchasing the right to see a contest between highly-conditioned, healthy athletes in peak physical condition and not suffering from any disability or serious injury.’”

The district court knocked out the plaintiffs.  The Ninth Circuit recently affirmed.  In Alessi v. Mayweather (In re Pacquiao-Mayweather Boxing Match Pay-Per-View Litig.), No. 17-56366 (9th Cir. Nov. 21, 2019), the court noted that “[a] majority of courts that have considered claims brought by dissatisfied sports fans follow what is known as the ‘license approach.’  Under that approach, a ticket holder enjoys only the right to view the ticketed event, and therefore no cognizable injury arises simply because the event did not meet fan expectations.”


In affirming the district court’s dismissal, the appeals court reviewed lots of cases brought unsuccessfully by unhappy fans.  Given these cases, the plaintiffs knew that they underdogs in the litigation, but argued that their situation was different, from the typical disappointed fan case, since they were allegedly “defrauded consumers.”

The appeals court did not agree:

“Plaintiffs in this case paid to see a boxing match between two of the top fighters in the world, Mayweather and Pacquiao. Each was medically cleared to fight by NSAC physicians before he entered the ring. Ultimately, a three-judge panel declared Mayweather the overall winner of the match, but each of the judges declared Pacquiao the winner of between two and four rounds.  And although the match may have lacked the drama worthy of the pre-fight hype, Pacquiao’s shoulder condition did not prevent him from going the full twelve rounds, the maximum number permitted for professional boxing contests. (citation omitted).  Plaintiffs therefore essentially got what they paid for—a full-length regulation fight between these two boxing legends. . . . Whatever subjective expectations Plaintiffs had before the match did not negate the very real possibility that the match would not, for one reason or another, live up to those expectations.”

The court was also concerned with a slippery slope: “We note also that in seeking to hold Defendants liable for alleged omissions and misrepresentations regarding Pacquiao’s physical condition, Plaintiffs theory of liability is potentially boundless. The nature of competitive sports is such that athletes commonly compete—and sometimes dramatically win—despite some degree of physical pain and injury.  Taken to its logical extreme, Plaintiffs’ theory would require all professional athletes to affirmatively disclose any injury—no matter how minor—or risk a slew of lawsuits from disappointed fans.”

I’m curious what would have happened if Pacquiao got KOed in the first round and it was because of his bad shoulder.
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