Introduction. The Fan Expo, LLC sued the NFL for tortious interference with Fan Expo’s contract with Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA). The trial court granted the NFL’s motion for summary judgment and rendered a take nothing judgment against Fan Expo leading to this appeal–The Fan Expo, LLC v. National Football League, supra, at *4, 05-17-01304-CV, 2019 WL 2211084 (Tex. App.—Dallas May 22, 2019, no pet. h.).
Background. The Fan Expo, LLC was created in 2015 to host the National Fantasy Football Convention, the first of which was to be held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Fan Expo invited numerous NFL football players to attend the 2015 convention, but the NFL warned the players that attendance may violate NFL gambling policies. As a result, the Fan Expo cancelled the 2015 convention and sued the NFL.
While the litigation was underway, Fan Expo was preparing for the 2016 convention to be held in California. The main attraction at that convention was going to be the EA Sports Madden NFL Video game. The fans attending would be able to play the game against NFL players. Fan Expo entered into a sponsorship agreement with Electronic Arts, Inc. (EA)–owner of Madden NFL video series. Fan Expo displayed an NFL logo on its website obtained from EA, which apparently caused a problem for EA with the NFL.
After communications between EA and the NFL regarding the use of the logo, EA sent an email to Fan Expo that it would not be participating in the convention. Fan Expo then sent a letter to the NFL demanding it cease and desist from contacting Fan Expo sponsors. Subsequently, Fan Expo sued the NFL for tortious interference with the EA sponsorship agreement, and a couple of months later Fan Expo cancelled the 2016 convention. In response to the lawsuit, the NFL filed a no-evidence motion for summary judgment (MSJ) asking the trial court to enter a take nothing judgment against Fan Expo as a matter of law. The trial court granted the motion leading to this appeal.
Court’s holding. The court of appeals stated:
The elements of a claim of tortious interference with an existing contract are: (1) an existing contract subject to interference; (2) a willful and intentional act of interference with the contract; (3) that proximately caused the plaintiff’s injury; and (4) caused actual damages or loss.
The Fan Expo, LLC v. National Football League, supra, at *4.
In response to the NFL’s no-evidence MSJ, Fan Expo had the burden to present at least some evidence that the NFL tortiously interfered with Fan Expo’s contract with EA. The court of appeals held that Fan Expo failed to do so, finding the following of significance:
- The EA did not state it had withdrawn from the convention due to pressure from the NFL.
- EA representatives testified that the NFL did not discourage EA from participation.
- Email messages from the NFL complained primarily about use of the NFL logo–shield.
- The NFL did not know that EA had a contract with Fan Expo to participate at the convention as a sponsor.
After reviewing all the evidence that Fan Expo presented in support of its response to the motion, the Dallas Court of Appeals found that there was no evidence to support Fan Expo’s claim against the NFL for tortious interference with the EA Contract, and affirmed the trial court’s take nothing judgment against Fan Expo in favor of the NFL.
Lessons learned. A claim for tortious interference with a contract can be more difficult to prove than a mere breach of contract because the plaintiff must prove that the defendant intended to induce the third party to breach the contract with plaintiff. Typically, neither the plaintiff nor the third party are going to admit that this is what the defendant intended to do. That means these cases often have to be proven by circumstantial evidence. Thus, it is important for the plaintiff and its counsel to perform a diligent pretrial investigation followed by comprehensive discovery after the lawsuit is filed. Otherwise, like Fan Expo, the plaintiff’s case may be dismissed on a pre-trial motion for summary judgment.