New York – With World Cup cricket in full swing across the Atlantic, there is focus on the game in the United States for a different reason – a lawsuit filed by Alston & Bird client American Cricket Premier League LLC (ACPL) against the national and international governing bodies of cricket, challenging the bidding process used by the two organizations to select a partner to launch a professional US cricket league.
“The entire bidding process from start to finish has been one big sham,” said Steven Maksin, CEO of ACPL. “It’s completely at odds with a fair, unbiased selection that cricket fans, players, and supporters deserve and can be proud of and will lead to a less robust league and a worse game-day product while giving cricket a huge black eye just as it seeks to establish itself in the US,” added Maksin.
In the case filed in the US District Court in Denver on May 28, 2019, the complaint detailed numerous acts of corruption in violation of federal and state antitrust law – including conspiracy, financial conflicts of interest, self-dealing, and undisclosed transactions – in the bidding process that led USA Cricket, the sport’s US governing body, to select American Cricket Enterprise Inc. (ACE), an entity run by the founder and CEO of Willow TV, Inc. and two of the principals of The Times Group of India, as its partner in developing a professional cricket league.
As noted in the complaint, the ACPL proposal offered better financial terms to USA Cricket than ACE, paying $8 million a year the first two years, compared with $2 million from ACE.
The ACPL bid also included capabilities for acquiring and building new facilities, including a facility already in development in Dallas, TX, and one soon to be announced in Atlanta, GA – provisions that ACE’s proposal lacked – to accommodate the sport’s popularity in the US, which has the largest fan base of any country outside of India.
In charging USA Cricket with conspiring with the International Cricket Council (ICC) to exclude ACPL from consideration despite its more favorable bid, the lawsuit stated that Willow TV, whose founder is the CEO of winning bidder ACE, provided free advertising during its cricket broadcasts for the election campaigns of four of USA Cricket’s seven board members.
The complaint noted: “After each of the conflicted board members won their elections, they were asked to vote on ACE’s Willow-backed proposal and, in effect, return the favor.”
The lawsuit also said that The Times of India Group, the largest media conglomerate in India and also an ACE backer, is a major partner of the ICC and a key sponsor of ICC-sanctioned events.
“Without the ICC’s imprimatur, no cricket league will have the legitimacy and international support necessary to survive and thrive in the United States,” the complaint acknowledged.
“USA Cricket, the ICC, Willow TV, and the other defendants have entered into a continuing agreement and conspiracy that constitutes an unreasonable restraint of trade, the purpose of which is to eliminate or reduce competition in the US cricket market by excluding ACPL,” said Karl Geercken, a New York-based partner at Alston & Bird who filed the lawsuit on behalf of ACPL.
Geercken further noted: “By attempting to bar ACPL from the market by, among other things, designing an RFP process that created the illusion of a free and fair competitive process that actually had a predetermined victor, USA Cricket engaged in a shell game to replace competition with a façade that sought to enshrine the conflicted, self-interested, incumbent participants in the sport to the detriment of American cricket enthusiasts and commercial supporters.”
Defendants in the lawsuit are USA Cricket, ICC, Willow TV, and five of USA Cricket’s board members, including chairman Paraag Marathe, who is also the executive vice president of the San Francisco 49ers professional football franchise.
Representing American Cricket Premier League in the matter are Alston & Bird partners Karl Geercken and Adam Biegel and associates Christopher Borchert and Austin Ownbey.