ORLANDO, Fla. — When you’re finished admiring Kate Upton and the other super models who grace the pages of the 2013 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, turn to page 218 for important information regarding the proposed $7.25 billion settlement of the ongoing swipe-fee antitrust lawsuit.
In the back of the 222-page Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, which hit newsstands Feb. 12, there’s a court-authorized legal notice to merchants. It explains the nature of the lawsuit, the terms of the proposed settlement and how merchants can opt in (or out) of the proceedings.
The sea of black type on those two white pages seems easy to miss after perusing 217 full-color pages of glamor in exotic locations. That’s why Mary Weaver Bennett, the director of government and industry relations at the Electronic Transactions Association, waved a copy of the magazine at the audience during her remarks last week at the Southeast Acquirers Association’s annual conference.
“Do you know why they published it there?” Bennett asked the crowd rhetorically. “Because they don’t want anybody to see it.”
The Sports Illustrated ad refers readers seeking more information to PaymentCardSettlement.com, a website maintained by Epiq Systems, the third-party class administrator hired by Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP; Berger & Montague, PC; and Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP, the legal team appointed to serve as the merchants’ class counsel. The three firms stand to receive legal fees and expenses totaling an estimated $946.25 million, plus up to an additional $200,000 per plaintiff in the class, if the settlement is approved in its current form, according to a copy of the notice posted online.
While card network executives are said to be confident that the settlement will receive final approval, the proposed swipe-fee settlement has been panned by some merchants, who were unsuccessful in their appeal of a judge’s decision to grant preliminary approval of the deal. Since then, some merchant groups have opted out of the settlement, while more than 1,200 merchants that have publicly objected to the terms weigh their options ahead of the Sept. 12 hearing that will determine the settlement’s final status.
For the few who discover the swipe-fee notice — and have the forbearance to wade into it — the ad provides a lot of information. The dense paragraphs cover the settlement terms, what merchants can receive by participating, how to ask for payment, legal rights and options, what will happen if the court approves the final settlement and details about the court hearing about the settlement.
The terms of the settlement require Visa and MasterCard to set aside $6.05 billion to reimburse merchants for part of the swipe fees they paid from Jan. 1, 2004 to Nov. 28, 2012. The card brands are also setting aside $1.2 billion to reduce the cost of swipe fees during an additional eight-month period.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to an email before deadline.