Maybe they should just break out the steel cage.
The natural business rivalry between Nashville-based Total Nonstop Action Entertainment Inc. and World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. has spilled over to the courtroom.
TNA filed an injunction request Wednesday in Davidson County Chancery Court, claiming that a former TNA employee provided WWE with confidential information and trade secrets.
Just days after TNA learned about the breach, well-known TNA wrestler Ric Flair attempted to back out of his contract, according to the suit.
The filing claims that Brian Wittenstein, who worked for TNA as a live events and talents relations coordinator from 2008 until August 2011, took confidential wrestler contract information when he went to work for WWE earlier this year.
According to the suit, WWE is now using that information to poach wrestlers from TNA.
“This wrongful disclosure and misappropriation allows WWE to effectively price TNA out of the market and cause irreparable harm to TNA’s business and profitability,” the lawsuit reads. “WWE now knows the confidential details of TNA’s business affairs including its marketing and business strategy and analysis, which leaves TNA vulnerable to WWE’s unfair position in the market.”
A WWE official notified TNA on May 7 about Wittenstein’s breach, but the lawsuit claims WWE waited three weeks before telling TNA. WWE fired Wittenstein after they learned what he did, according to the lawsuit.
Two days later, Flair attempted to terminate his TNA contract. He also failed to show up for TNA events from May 10-15, including a pay-per-view show. TNA now believes that Flair may be headed for WWE, the timing of which, it claims, is “suspect.”
“In order to injure TNA and gain a competitive advantage, WWE intentionally interfered with TNA’s contractual relationship with Ric Flair and maliciously used the trade secrets and confidential information provided by Wittenstein to approach Ric Flair,” the lawsuit reads.
Jerry McDevitt, who has represented the WWE in legal cases for 25 years, said the lawsuit took them by surprise.
“Our reaction is that no good deed ever goes unpunished,” he said. “What the WWE did here is what you would hope any company would do in these circumstances it found itself in.”
Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle signed a temporary restraining order Thursday, requiring WWE and Wittenstein return, and not destroy, the confidential information. WWE and Wittenstein must abide by the order until an injunction hearing set for June 11.
Overall, TNA is suing for interference with existing contracts (against WWE), breach of duty of loyalty (against Wittenstein), conversion, breach of contract, civil conspiracy, unfair competition and violation of the Tennessee Uniform Trade Secrets Act.
TNA, whose headquarters are located in Cummins Station, has increased in global popularity over the past several years.
The much larger WWE, founded in 1952, is based in Stamford, Conn., and made $123 million in revenue during the first quarter of 2012.