Lawsuit: Connecticut’s WWE is trying to ‘destroy’ competitor

Photo of Paul Schott

STAMFORD — WWE has been sued in a federal court this week by a smaller competitor, which alleged the Stamford company has unlawfully tried to monopolize the professional wrestling market.

MLW Media LLC, of Mamaroneck, N.Y., accused WWE of trying to maintain an 85 percent share of the U.S. market for wrestling broadcast content and counteract a five-year decline in its own shows’ popularity through “unfair and anti-competitive business practices, including poaching talent, misappropriating confidential information, interfering with competitors’ contracts and cutting off competitors’ access to their viewing audiences.”

“This action arises out of the egregious efforts of professional wrestling company WWE to destroy its competitor MLW’s business and maintain its dominance of the U.S. broadcasting market for professional wrestling by unlawfully interfering with MLW’s access to media markets and wrestling talent,” MLW said in the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California.

WWE denied the allegations.

“WWE believes these claims have no merit and intends to vigorously defend itself against them,” the company said in a statement.

The lawsuit cited several examples of alleged misconduct, including WWE’s interference in 2021 resulted in Vice TV ending talks to air new MLW content and Tubi, a Fox-owned streaming service, terminating a license agreement the night before it would have been publicly announced.

“WWE purposefully directed its communications to Tubi in California in order to disrupt MLW’s relationship with Tubi and to cut off MLW’s access to and competition in major national media markets,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also said the MLW “lost the momentum it had built with fans, including a major fan base in California, with ticket sales dropping by 40 percent within weeks of WWE’s wrongful interference with the license agreement.”

Among other allegations, MLW asserted that beginning in early 2020, WWE tried to poach MLW’s fighters who were under exclusive contracts and aired footage of an MLW wrestler without the company’s consent.

“WWE also attempted to induce MLW wrestlers to breach their contracts and reveal confidential and proprietary information about MLW’s business,” the lawsuit said. “WWE also sought to prevent wrestlers from working with MLW by refusing to hire wrestlers who had worked for MLW. As a result of WWE’s efforts, one of MLW’s wrestlers demanded to be released early from his contract so he could join WWE.”

The complaint seeks damages that would include “an award of actual damages and all damages that were a natural result of WWE’s tortious conduct, in an amount to be calculated at trial.”

In addition to being competitors, there are other connections between the companies. Court Bauer, MLW’s CEO since 2017, worked at WWE until 2007, according to the complaint.

WWE is headquartered at 1241 E. Main St., in Stamford. Later this year, it is planning to open a new headquarters, at 677 Washington Blvd., in downtown Stamford. In the third quarter of 2021, there were about 700 WWE employees based in Stamford, making the company the city’s 12th-largest employer, according to the Stamford Office of Economic Development.

In the first nine months of 2021, WWE produced revenues of about $785 million, up 7 percent from the same period in 2020.

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; twitter: @paulschott