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Yet again, sports economist Zimbalist stumbles in court

It’s been a tough seven months for sports economist and professional witness Andrew Zimbalist, who has been beaten up in court three times, not to mention the court of opinion. I recently chronicled a case involving the Seattle SuperSonics, during which Zimbalist’s credibility was shredded during cross-examination, an antitrust case involving NASCAR in which a judge cast doubt upon Zimbalist's report, and Zimbalist’s dubious and defensive appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show.

In the past two weeks, Zimbalist’s credibility further suffered during a federal antitrust trial involving a challenge to the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), the men's professional tennis players' association, by organizers of the tour in Hamburg, Germany, upset that their tournament had been demoted from the top tier and changing its schedule.

(All coverage is from SportsBusiness Journal, reposted in this tennis blog.)

An uproar in court

According to SportsBusiness Journal, Zimbalist’s testimony “caused an uproar,” leading the defense to request a mistrial and the judge to dismiss the jury early, because he brought notes to the stand, in contravention of court procedures.

In fact, at one point, Zimbalist corrected the lawyer questioning him, asking if the right question had been asked. “Well, I have seen it all,” federal judge Gregory Sleet said.

Illegal cartel?

Zimbalist “testified that the ATP is an illegal cartel that monopolizes top flight men’s tennis,” SportsBusiness Journal reported. In response, the lawyer for ATP suggested that Zimbalist’s report was similar to the one he prepared in the NASCAR case. In both reports, he argued (according to the newspaper) “that the sports competed only internally, and not against other forms of entertainment.”

SportsBusiness Journal noted that even the plaintiffs’ lawyer conceded that Zimbalist’s interpretation “was very subtle and nuanced,” suggesting the alleged injury was more to players and tournament owners rather than consumers or sponsors—even though antitrust cases typically address injury to consumers.

At one point, Judge Sleet suggested, “So maybe it's (Roger) Federer and (Rafael) Nadal that needs to be the plaintiffs here.”

Verdict: Zimbalist's client loses

After Sleet threw out all but one of the charges in the case, he “expressed great skepticism regarding the merits of the case” and revealed that he came close to striking Zimbalist’s testimony, according to SportsBusiness Journal. He did tell the jury that they could take Zimbalist’s behavior into account in assessing his credibility.

After a two-week trial, a jury deliberated nine hours before dismissing the final count.

Money issues

The German Tennis Federation had sought some $76 million in damages. The ATP, in its successful defense, paid its economic witness Jonathan Walker and his firm, Economists Inc., $1 million.

In contrast, the plaintiffs paid Zimbalist $850 per hour, but no total was given, so maybe in this battle of the experts, Zimbalist was not only outmatched but out-compensated.

(In Seattle, he was paid $17,753. How much was he paid for the Atlantic Yards study? We don't know, but we know it's a lot more than volunteers Peebles and Kim were paid.)

All told, it’s another reminder that Zimbalist should never have been given the last word, as the New York Times granted, in coverage of the Atlantic Yards economic impact study commissioned by developer Forest City Ratner.

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