Pacquiao and Mayweather Bob and Weave Past Litigation over "Fight of the Century"
On August 25th, 2017, in a convincing knockout, a federal judge in Los Angeles dismissed dozens of lawsuits against Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather alleging Pacquiao's concealed shoulder injury impacted the quality of their highly anticipated May 2015 "Fight of the Century." Judge R. Gary Klausner dismissed each and every complaint in this multi-district litigation, ruling that disappointed viewers who had paid for the fight failed to state a claim based on a cognizable injury to a legally protected right or interest. (In Re: Pacquiao-Mayweather Boxing Match Pay-Per-View Litigation, No. 15-ml-02639 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 25, 2017)). The big fight drew tremendous TV viewership, with consumers paying as much as $99.95 to watch the bout, and brought in over $400 million for HBO and Showtime in pay-per-view revenue. After losing the fight in a 12-round decision, Pacquiao revealed that he had torn his rotator cuff a month before the fight during training and was "not really 100%" in the ring. The day before the fight, however, Pacquiao and his personal advisor completed and signed a Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) Pre-Fight Medical Questionnaire attesting that he had not suffered any shoulder injury and did not have any serious medical illnesses or conditions of any kind. On the day of the fight, three hours before the start of the match, Pacquiao's team disclosed the injury to NSAC and its physicians in hopes of receiving an anti-inflammatory cortisone injection (the request was denied, and NSAC physicians cleared Pacquiao to fight).
After the final bell had sounded, the litigation battle ensued. Various plaintiffs brought a flurry of lawsuits against the boxers and their promoters, among others, alleging that the defendants concealed the shoulder injury to maintain the pre-fight hype and increase pay-per-view subscriptions, and advanced claims including fraudulent concealment, statutory consumer fraud and conspiracy to commit consumer fraud.
The various lawsuits arising out of the concealment of Pacquiao's rotator cuff injury were all consolidated on August 17, 2015, leading to a multidistrict litigation comprising 26 individual actions and 15 consolidated complaints (In Re: Pacquiao-Mayweather Boxing Match Pay-Per-View Litigation). In one corner were the plaintiffs, which included pay-per-view purchasers, ticket-holding plaintiffs and commercial entities that purchased closed-circuit distribution rights for the fight. In the other corner were the defendants, who, in essence, argued that even if the fight was not a scintillating, epic bout, viewers obtained the full benefit of the expected bargain and did not suffer any recoverable damages.
The court began its analysis by noting the underlying tension in this litigation: that is, judicial reticence to recognize "disappointed-fan injuries" balanced with the court's role in interpreting "robust" consumer protection laws. In examining whether the plaintiffs suffered any cognizable injuries, the court stated that ticketholders and pay-per-view subscribers received "nothing more than a revocable license" to view whatever transpired at the event, "regardless of prior promises or representations about the performance."
In dismissing the case, the court delivered the ultimate blow when it stated that recognizing plaintiffs' claims would disrupt the nature and integrity of competitive sports – that the outcome of a sporting match is always uncertain, performances unpredictable and pre-event statements unreliable. In the court's mind, any remedy for the claimed unscrupulous behavior outlined in plaintiffs' complaint was not a legal one, but more of a problem to be fixed through lobbying the legislative or state athletic commissions. In scoring this decision in favor of the defendants, the court stated that the plaintiffs ultimately received what they paid for, namely the right to view a sanctioned boxing match, and "plaintiffs had no legally protected interest or right to see an exciting fight, a fight between two totally healthy and fully prepared boxers or a fight that lived up to the significant pre-fight hype." Following the court's dismissal of the complaint, the plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal with the Ninth Circuit, so it seems like there will be a rematch.
For plaintiffs, although the loss in the early round of this litigation added insult to their alleged injury of not seeing anything close to the Fight of the Century in the ring, it certainly provided them a lesson in the old adage, Caveat emptor.