Belgium Billiard ball association’s exclusive sponsoring contracts with suppliers of billiard products infringes competition law

BE Law

A Belgian enterprise Court decided that the Belgian Billiard Association is an undertaking for competition law purposes to the extent that it organises billiard tournaments. The Court also considered that the conclusion of long term exclusive sponsorship contracts with suppliers of billiard products (billiard tables and balls) for its tournaments, amounts to an abuse of a dominant position when there was no prior transparent tender. Such contracts also amount to a restrictive practice.

The Belgian Billiard Association organises and promotes billiard games in Belgium. At the same time, it organises a certain number of important tournaments in Belgium.

In the framework of those tournaments, the association had concluded a four year exclusive sponsorship agreement with a supplier of billiard tables. It had concluded a similar exclusive sponsorship agreements with a supplier of billiard balls. 

A competitor for the production of such billiard products launched a procedure before the Enterprise Court in Leuven. It considered that the conclusion of such long-term exclusive sponsorship agreements without publishing a prior tender amounted to a violation of competition laws.

The Enterprise Court considered that the Billiard Association was an undertaking to the extent that it organised billiard tournaments and exploited them commercially. It also considered that the market of the organisation of billiard games was a relevant market in itself (to be distinguished from, for example, snooker games) and that the association had a dominant position in that respect in Belgium. 

The Belgian Competition Authority submitted an amicus curiae. It is mainly on the basis of that amicus curiae that the President and the Court came to the conclusion that there was an infringement of competition laws.

The infringement consisted firstly in the fact that as an undertaking in a dominant position, the Belgian Billiard Association should have organised a tender when it wished to conclude such long-term sponsor contracts. 

Secondly, the Enterprise Court considered that such long-term sponsor contracts was also an infringement of prohibition on restrictive practices in the Belgian competition Act (Art. IV.1 Code of economic law). The Court indicated that the Belgian Competition Authority argued that agreeing on an exclusivity as such may not be an infringement of competition laws. However, considering the importance of the contract, the tournaments for which it applied and the position of the respective parties, the Belgian Competition authority considered that in the case at hand there was a significant effect on competition. 

The Enterprise Court ordered the Belgian Billiard Association to stop such illegal practices subject to a periodic penalty payment. An appeal is possible.

This article was published in the Competition Newsletter of February 2022. Other articles in this newsletter: