The Finnish ice hockey league (Jääkiekon SM-liiga Oy) and the teams in the league had agreed that the teams would not hire any players from Kontinental Hockey League team Jokerit during the season or play any friendly games against the team. The teams in the league are mutually competing undertakings, and they are required to make their own independent decisions on matters such as their respective player acquisitions. The agreement has been in violation of EU and Finnish competition law, and the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA) has ordered the league and the teams to terminate the implementation of the agreement.
In its ruling on 31 October 2019, the FCCA found that the agreement of Jääkiekon SM-liiga Oy and the 15 teams in the league that discriminated against the team Jokerit has violated both Finnish and EU competition law. The order to bring the infringement to an end is enforced with a periodic penalty payment of 75,000 euros for each involved party continuing the infringement
The parties had agreed that they would not hire any players from Jokerit during the season or play any friendly games against the team. As part of the agreement, the parties also agreed that the league teams would not make any player loan agreements with Jokerit for the following season when the current season is still ongoing. The purpose of the practice has been to protect the financial interests of Jääkiekon SM-liiga Oy and the league teams by hindering players from moving between Kontinental Hockey League team Jokerit and the teams playing in the Finnish league. According to Jokerit, the practice has hindered the team’s player acquisitions.
The purpose of the practice between the parties has been to exclude their competitor by sharing the market. The market sharing has been carried out by limiting production and using the method of collective boycott. This type of practice is considered to constitute a hard core restriction of competition.
The practice was initially agreed upon orally in a meeting of the management team of Jääkiekon SM-liiga Oy in January 2014. The management team includes the managing directors of every team in the league. The agreement was confirmed in writing in a meeting of the management team in December 2016. According to the FCCA’s information, the agreement is still valid, and the parties continue to abide by it.
The FCCA finds that the object of the agreement has been to protect the financial interests of Jääkiekon SM-liiga Oy and the 15 league teams by restricting competition.
“Sports activities often have an economic aspect as well. Any restriction of economic competition in sports falls within the scope of application of competition law,” notes Head of Research Hannu Raatikainen.
The parties involved may appeal against the decision by lodging an appeal to the Market Court.
Public version of the decision (in Finnish)
Specialist Annastina Hellsten tel. +358 29 505 3015
Head of Research Hannu Raatikainen tel. +358 29 505 3357