Soccer Warz 2019

It appears that Soccer Warz 2019 has begun.

United Soccer Leagues LLC, the entity that controls the USL leagues and their related intellectual properties, filed suit last Wednesday against United Premier Soccer League Inc., the corporation that runs the UPSL leagues. Filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California as civil case #19-913, the lawsuit alleges that the UPSL broke federal trademark law (the Lanham Act and federal trademark common law) by its "unauthorized use of the USL Marks, or confusingly similar marks." The lawsuit requests a jury trial, damages for trademark infringement, attorneys' fees and costs, and an injunction to stop UPSL from using any "colorable imitation of the USL Marks in any manner likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake or to deceive" or "committing any acts likely to cause consumers to believe that [UPSL]'s soccer leagues... are...sponsored by USL," or "otherwise competing unfairly with USL."

From the filing, it appears that the USL's main beef is that, "in or around 2017 [UPSL] began efforts to push UPSL into professional soccer play on a national level." Before that time, "the UPSL was comprised of a handful of recreational, non-professional adult men's soccer teams that played against one another in regional matches in the greater Los Angeles area. As such, UPSL did not compete with USL in any meaningful way." But that changed, according to the USL, when "in a short period of time, [UPSL] saturated the market with teams dubbed 'professional' soccer teams." Much of the complaint is aimed at blasting UPSL for daring to refer to itself or its teams as professional, pointing out that "the UPSL has not been sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation as a professional league, whereas USL Championship League and USL League One are both sanctioned." It also takes shots at the difference in quality of online streams, stating that "USL has partnered with ESPN to broadcast these matches using state of the art technology... On information and belief, games streamed by [UPSL] often feature an amateur, grainy display and poor audio quality."

USL also claim to have sent a letter to UPSL on January 18, 2019 demanding that UPSL "cease and desist from its unlawful use of the names United Premier Soccer League and UPSL, and other marks confusingly similar to the USL Marks," but that UPSL refused to do so. Grainy display and poor audio quality aside, UPSL's "purport[ing] to have over 150 soccer teams in two divisions across 17 conferences in the United States, competing at the national level" clearly has USL worried, and they have taken to the courts as a result. The case has been assigned to a judge who participates in CACD's Court-Directed ADR (alternative dispute resolution) Program, so there is still a chance that the leagues will figure this dispute out amongst themselves.

What kind of chance does USL have of winning this case - hard to tell at this point. But what is clear is that the league has decided to go after a smaller fish in the pond. It is hard to not see this type of thing as a result of the hands-off approach taken by US Soccer when it comes to leagues and designating tiers. When it’s nothing but individual corporations fighting for pieces of the pie, without an organized structure or a governing body in control, why wouldn’t these anarchic battles spring up?

We will be monitoring this case, which was filed last week (extremely quietly, it must be pointed out) in California. Both parties in the suit were contacted by Protagonist Soccer - UPSL declined to comment on the situation, while USL has so far not responded to our attempt (should they respond, we’ll be happy to add their response or non response).

- Stephen Packer, Dan Vaughn