International Boxing Club

by Will Weir

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Where it was

In 1949 Madison Square Garden paid Mike Jacobs of Twentieth Century Boxing Club $100,000 to relinquish his rights to promote fights at the Garden. Jacobs had become ill as a result of a stroke and the Garden wanted to turn over promotion to the IBC. The IBC had obtained the contracts of four contenders from Joe Louis for $150,000 on his retirement, and wanted to promote the fights in the Garden.

The IBC developed a stranglehold on championship boxing, promoting 47 out of 51 championship bouts in the United States from 1949 to 1955. Its major revenues were acquired through television of twice-weekly boxing bouts from the Garden.

Legal Troubles

Norris and Wirtz formed the The International Boxing Club of Illinois to discourage the perception that the IBC monopolized boxing. Norris resigned as president of IBC of New York in favor of Truman Gibson and the IBC was bought by the Garden and operated as a wholly owned subsidiary. But Judge Sylvester Ryan of the U.S. District Court decided the IBC of New York was a monopoly and ordered its dissolution. Norris and Wirtz were given five years to divest themselves of their holdings (approximately 40%) in the Garden. Ryan also declared the IBC of Illinois a monopoly and ordered its dissolution as well. The decisions were appealed but confirmed on January 12, 1959 by the U.S. Supreme Court.[1]

In a surprise move, on January 30, 1959 Norris and Wirtz announced they were selling their interest in the Garden to Graham-Paige Corporation, a New York investment company. The sale became official on February 19, 1959.

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Legal Issues

United States v. International Boxing Club of New York (348 U.S. 236, 1955), often referred to as International Boxing Club or just International Boxing, was an antitrust decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. By a 7-2 margin, the justices ruled that the exemption it had previously upheld for Major League Baseball was peculiar and unique to that sport and that it did not apply to boxing. Since it met the definition of interstate commerce, the government could therefore proceed with a trial to prove IBCNY and the other defendants had conspired to monopolize the market for championship boxing in the United States.

It was the first time another sport had argued it was covered by the same exemption as baseball by virtue of being a professional sport. Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for the majority, admitted that it would never have reached the Court but for the baseball exemption, and dissenting justices Felix Frankfurter and Sherman Minton were unsparing in their criticism of the arbitrary nature of this distinction.

The case was remanded for trial, which the government won, forcing the breakup of some of the defendant companies. An appeal of that decision also was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court four years later, upholding the wide discretion and scope of district court judges in shaping remedies for antitrust violations.

Legacy

The antitrust suit proceeded and the government won. The IBCNY appealed the divestitures proposed by the judge as having gone past the original offense, and that case came to the Supreme Court again as International Boxing Club of New York v. United States (358 U.S. 242 (1959)). Again the justices ruled in the government's favor, and Norris and Wirtz dissolved the organization and sold their interest in the other defendant organizations.

While they left boxing, they remained involved in professional sports as owners of the Chicago Blackhawks National Hockey League franchise. Wirtz's grandson Rocky is today the team's principal owner.

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