SBD/Issue 196/Law & Politics

Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Appeal Of NFL Antitrust Case

U.S. Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Antitrust
Suit Challenging NFL's Deal With Reebok
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear American Needle Inc.’s appeal that challenges the NFL’s licensing deal signed with Reebok in '01, according to Frederic Frommer of the AP. The court will decide whether a league “can enter an exclusive licensing deal with a maker of team jerseys and other gear without violating federal antitrust law.” The NFL won the case in the Court of Appeals, but has also asked the Supreme Court to “hear the case in a quest for a more sweeping decision” (AP, 6/29).  The NFL released a statement that read, “We are pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case. We look forward to the opportunity to explain why the court should confirm and extend on a nationwide basis the favorable rulings of the Court of Appeals on the application of the antitrust laws to the unique structure of a sports league” (THE DAILY). REUTERS' Ben Klayman reported the NBA and NHL "filed briefs supporting the NFL with the Supreme Court," while MLB, "which has an antitrust exemption on many issues, did not." The U.S. Justice Department had "urged the Supreme Court not to hear the case, saying neither American Needle nor the NFL had presented a question warranting review by the justices" (REUTERS, 6/29). 

WHOLE NEW BALLGAME: Marquette Univ. Law School National Sports Law Institute Dir Matt Mitten noted the case "will be the first time the Supreme Court will consider the merits of the single-entity defense." Mitten added that a favorable court decision "could give the league 'a lot more room not to have to fear suits' on issues such as relocation and team ownership requirements" (USA TODAY, 6/30). Tulane Univ. Sports Law Program Dir Gabe Feldman: "A broad ruling in favor of the NFL could rewrite almost all of sports antitrust law." N.Y.-based attorney Daniel Glazer added that an NFL victory "would represent a significant change." Glazer: "Certain business activities of the NFL would not be subject to antitrust review by the government, and thus be exempt from potential government intervention and oversight" (AP, 6/29).

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