Following a fight that did not deliver to fan expectations several lawsuits were filed in the aftermath of the Mayweather-Pacquiao bout.
The claims were based primarily on allegations of fraud arguing that Pacquiao wrongfully concealed a pre bout injury and had this injury been disclosed prospective fans would not have purchased the bout. In 2017 U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner dismissed the claims.
Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that the cases were rightfully dismissed. In disposing of the appeal District Judge Nguyen provided the following reasons:
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. See ABC Regulatory Guidelines, Ass’n of Boxing Comm’ns and Combative Sports (July 27, 2005), https://www.abcboxing. com/abc-regulatory-guidelines/. Plaintiffs therefore essentially got what they paid for—a full-length regulation fight between these two boxing legends.
Even though the license approach may not map perfectly onto the allegations in this case, we need not adopt that approach to conclude that Plaintiffs suffered no legally cognizable injury here. 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.
As the Seventh Circuit explained in Bowers, Formula One racing fans expect that, on any given day, numerous events may prevent a competition with a full complement of twenty cars. See 489 F.3d at 324 (describing “dangerous track conditions, a driver’s sudden illness, an accident in shipping a car to the track, any number of things, including the possibility that, for some reason, a driver might refuse to race” as factors that might result in a competition involving fewer cars). In boxing, too, many factors may prevent a full-length match, or one that is as exciting as fans hope. A boxer might, for example, tear a muscle or foul out in the first round. Or a referee might inadvertently come between the boxers, preventing one from landing a knockout punch. As in Bowers, these are all possibilities that boxing fans can expect. See Castillo, 701 N.Y.S.2d at 424 (describing disqualification as “a possibility that a fight fan can reasonably expect”).
We find unpersuasive Plaintiffs’ remaining argument that their claims “are no different than claims alleging fraudulent inducement to procure sales of any other goods or service.” In a typical consumer-protection case, consumers form beliefs about what they can expect by relying on public representations regarding the features of the good or service at issue. An advertisement that states that a certain model of a car is equipped with a sunroof and an in-dash navigation system, for example, gives rise to the reasonable expectation that the model in fact has both features. If the car lacks one or both, consumers might bring suit, alleging that they were injured because the advertisements misrepresented the car’s features.
These principles do not apply with equal force to claims brought by fans in the sports context. A sports match or game, unlike a consumer good or service, is defined only by a set of rules that are well-known to fans; the rest is determined by how the match is fought or the game is played. Cf. Bowers, 489 F.3d at 321 (characterizing a Formula One race as a “spectacle” that depends on “the performers and their scheduled performance”). Nor can it be said that fan expectations are uniform: a move or play that exceeds one fan’s expectations disappoints the next. See Mayer, 605 F.3d at 235 n.4 (observing that various cases have recognized “the absence of a cause of action arising out of bad performance or, more generally, the subjective expectations of the ticket-holders”). The “human drama of athletic competition” distinguishes this case from the garden-variety consumer protection cases.
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. Such a result would fundamentally alter the nature of competitive sports: Opponents would undoubtedly use such information to their strategic advantage, resulting in fewer games and matches won through fair play, and gone would be the days of athletes publicly declaring their strength and readiness for fear of a lawsuit alleging that fans were misled.
Plaintiffs’ theory of liability also presents serious workability problems. Would athletes be required to make an affirmative disclosure regarding any discomfort they felt, or only with respect to diagnosed injuries? Would it matter whether a diagnosed injury caused an athlete no pain? And how far in advance of a game or match would such disclosures be required?
As the Third Circuit explained in Mayer:
At the very least, a ruling in favor of [the aggrieved ticket holder] could lead to other disappointed fans filing lawsuits because of “a blown call” that apparently caused their team to lose or any number of allegedly improper acts committed by teams, coaches, players, referees and umpires, and others. This Court refuses to countenance a course of action that would only further burden already limited judicial resources and force professional sports organizations and related individuals to expend money, time, and resources to defend against such litigation.
605 F.3d at 237.
Like the racing fans in Bowers who saw only six out of the twenty cars that were expected to race, or the boxing fans in Castillo who witnessed Tyson’s shameful disqualification for biting off part of his opponent’s ear, Plaintiffs here have no cognizable claim arising out of a performance by Pacquiao that fell short of viewer expectations. See Bowers, 489 F.3d at 322 (“[O]nce it is established that the plaintiffs received a regulation race, they . . . had no additional right to a race that was exciting or drivers that competed well.”); Castillo, 701 N.Y.S.2d at 425 (concluding that the “plaintiffs received what they paid for, namely, the right to view whatever event transpired” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
The district court was therefore correct to knock out Plaintiffs’ complaints.