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Court rules consumer protection laws don’t apply to sports

Floyd Mayweather taunts Manny Pacquiao during a boxing match on May 2, 2015, in Las Vegas. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that spectators weren’t defrauded even though the fight did not live up to expectations and Pacquiao was injured. (Photo by John Locher/Associated Press)

Floyd Mayweather taunts Manny Pacquiao during a boxing match on May 2, 2015, in Las Vegas. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that spectators weren’t defrauded even though the fight did not live up to expectations and Pacquiao was injured. (Photo by John Locher/Associated Press)

Just because you may have spent more than $1,500 to attend a sporting event doesn’t mean you’re going to see the kind of contest you wanted to see, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

In a decision setting new precedents for all sorts of future sporting events, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit filed by spectators to the 2015 boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and and Manny Pacquiao at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. That bout between the two champions was won in a decision for Mayweather after the full 12 rounds, though the court said the fight “turned out to be a yawner.”

Tickets were selling from $1,500 to more than $7,500, with “scalpers” getting as much as $231,000. And court records show the pay-per-view revenues broke records, with commercial subscribers paying up to $10,000 to show the fight at their establishments.

It was only learned later that Pacquiao had torn the rotator cuff in his right shoulder during a sparring session about a month earlier.

That led to a series of lawsuits by individuals against both boxers and their camps and HBO, which aired the event. Plaintiffs said they were defrauded, arguing in legal filings that Pacquiao was “damaged goods,” that the fight was a “magnificent con,” and that they would not have purchased the tickets had they known about the injury.

Jacqueline Nyugen

Jacqueline Nyugen

Appellate Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, writing for the court, did not dispute arguments by unhappy fight goers that they were never told beforehand about the injury and that the match did not live up to expectations. But none of that, she said, meant that ticket holders were defrauded.

“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 12 rounds, the maximum number permitted for professional boxing contests,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiffs therefore essentially got what they paid for − a full-length regulation fight between these two boxing legends.”

Put simply, Nguyen said, ticket buyers suffered no injury for which they can be compensated.

“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.”

Thursday’s ruling has important implications for sports fans in the nine Western states, including Arizona, who might want to file similar lawsuits when all sorts of events, not just boxing, don’t live up to expectations. She said the laws protecting consumers from fraud just don’t apply here.

“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,”Nguyen wrote. If the vehicle does not, buyers can claim fraud 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,” she said.

Nguyen said any sporting event is defined by a set of known rules.

“`The rest is determined by how the match is fought or the game is played,” she explained. “The human drama of athletic competition distinguishes this case from garden-variety consumer protection cases.”

Anyway, the judge said, it would be unworkable to try to apply fraud laws even in cases where an athlete has not previously disclosed some injury.

“The nature of competitive sports is such at that athletes commonly compete − and sometimes dramatically win − despite some degree of physical pain and injury,” she said. “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.”

And that, said the judge 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,” Nguyen said. “Gone would be the days of athletes publicly declaring their strength and readiness for fear of a lawsuit alleging that fans were misled.”

The judge stressed that unhappy fans do have a remedy of sorts. They can refuse to support either boxer, their promotional teams, HBO or the Nevada State Athletic Commission which cleared Pacquiao for the fight.

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