On 11 May 2021, the Juzgado de lo Mercantil nr. 17 of Madrid has submitted a request for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the interpretation of Articles 101 and 102 TFUE, on the one hand, and of Articles 45, 49, 56 and 63 TFUE, on the other, in the frame of a declaratory claim filed on behalf of European Superleague Company S.L. on 19 April 2021. Readers may recall that inaudita alter parte interim measures were granted the next day.
The Juzgado refers now six questions to the CJEU – maybe a bit over the threshold which separates interpreting EU law and applying it to the case at hand. In a nutshell, the Spanish court is asking whether specific provisions in the bylaws of UEFA and FIFA fall under the prohibition of either Article 101 or Article 102, or both. In case of an affirmative answer regarding the former, the court asks whether the exception in para 3 of Article 101 could nevertheless apply. In case of a positive answer vis à vis Article 102, the equivalent question is whether such a restriction could benefit from an objective justification. In addition, the referring court is asking about the compatibility between the prior authorization FIFA and UEFA require for the establishment of a pan-European club competition, and the free movement of persons, services and capital.
While waiting for the request to be available at the website of the CJEU, I have made the following translation (questions one and two are practically identical in Spanish; I changed a little bit the wording in an attempt to make them more intelligible):
- Must Article 102 TFEU be interpreted as prohibiting FIFA and UEFA, which have conferred upon themselves an exclusive competence to organize or authorize international club competitions in Europe, an abuse of a dominant position consisting in imposing in their Statutes ( in particular, articles 22 and 71 to 73 of the FIFA Statutes, articles 49 and 51 of the UEFA Statutes, and any similar article contained in the statutes of member associations and national leagues) any third party entity wishing to establish a new pan-European club competition such as the Super League the need to obtain prior authorization, in particular as there is no regulated procedure based on objective, transparent and non-discriminatory criteria, and taking into account the possible conflict of interests that would affect FIFA and UEFA?
- Must Article 101 TFEU be interpreted as meaning it prohibits FIFA and UEFA, which have granted themselves exclusive competence to organise or authorise international competitions in Europe, to require in their statutes (in particular Articles 22 and 71 to 73 of FIFA’s statutes, Articles 49 and 51 of UEFA’s statutes, and any similar article in the statutes of member associations and national leagues) their prior authorisation for any third party entity to establish a pan-European club competition, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, in particular as there is no regulated procedure thereto based on objective and non-discriminatory criteria, and taking into account the possible conflict of interest that would affect FIFA and UEFA?.
- Should articles 101 and / or 102 TFEU be interpreted as meaning that they prevent FIFA, UEFA, their member associations and / or national leagues, to threaten with sanctions the clubs participating in the Super League, and / or its players, in light of the deterrence effect such threats can generate? In case sanctions for exclusion from competitions or the prohibition to participate in national team matches are adopted, would they, without being based on objective, transparent and non-discriminatory criteria, constitute a violation of Articles 101 and / or 102 of the TFEU?
- Are Articles 101 and/or 102 TFEU to be interpreted as incompatible with Articles 67 and 68 of the FIFA Statute, in so far as the latter identify UEFA and its national federations as ‘original holders of all rights arising from competitions… within their respective jurisdiction’, thus depriving participating clubs and any alternative competition organiser of the original ownership of said rights, and assuming the exclusive responsibility for their marketing?
- If FIFA and UEFA, as entities entrusted with exclusive competence to organise and authorise international football clubs competition in Europe, prohibit or oppose, on the basis of the abovementioned provisions of their statutes, the development of the Super League, must Article 101 TFEU be interpreted as meaning that those restrictions on competition benefit from the exception it provides for, considering that: production is substantially limited, alternative products to those offered by FIFA / UEFA in the market is prevented, and innovation is restricted in that other formats and modalities are prevented, thus potential competition in the market is removed and consumer choices limited? Would such a restriction have an objective justification, so that it could be concluded that there is no abuse of a dominant position within the meaning of Article 102 TFEU?
- Are Articles 45, 49, 56 and/or 63 TFEU to be interpreted as meaning that a provision such as that contained in the FIFA and UEFA Statutes (in particular under Articles 22 and 71 to 73 of the FIFA statutes, Articles 49 and 51 of the UEFA Statutes and any other similar article contained in the statutes of associations belonging to national leagues) constitutes a restriction of one of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in those provisions, in that it requires prior authorisation of those entities for an economic operator of a Member State to establish a pan-European competition?
The Auto (Order) is available in Spanish here. I would also like to draw attention to the post of 22 April 2021, by Dwayne Bach, in the Kluwer Competition Law Blog, where he makes a first assessment of the situation under EU competition law (Update: further comments have been published afterwards. See in particular “Is this game over? Competition law implications of the Super League” and, more recently, “Spanish judge voids Super League actions“)