Blog & Tackle: NFL’s court case could change sports landscape

July 20, 2009 | Chris Pika

ESPN’s legal analyst Lester Munson wrote a lengthy piece about a Supreme Court case that could have a huge impact on sports and future costs for fans if the NFL prevails.

Here is Munson’s complete story on ESPN.

American Needle, Inc. made caps and hats bearing NFL and team logos for several years until the NFL ended the contract in 2000. ANI filed an antitrust suit against the NFL for acting as a monopoly and keeping ANI from getting a share of the market.

ANI lost at several levels and kept appealing all the way to the Supreme Court. No surprise here, ANI was looking for some relief in order to keep a share of the lucrative business. But the surprise is that the NFL supported ANI’s request to have the case reviewed by the high court.

Now, why would the NFL do that? Simple – if the NFL prevails at the Supreme Court, and the Court rules that the league is a single entity, not a group of 32 competing businesses, the league can no longer be sued on antitrust claims – nor could any other major sports league.

According to Munson, judges ruling against the NFL in antitrust cases have said that NFL teams compete with each other for free-agent players, for coaches, for executives, for sponsors, for naming rights money and for fans.

One big change if the NFL prevails? According to Munson, “With their new powers and freedom from antitrust concerns, all four leagues would enter a new reality. Owners could attack free agency, using their new bargaining power to restrict player movement from team to team and impose a salary schedule …”

Many fans would probably like that aspect, but they wouldn’t like this: A decision for the NFL in the case would also hit fans in the wallet. One small example: When the NFL went exclusive with Reebok in 2000, cap prices went from $20 to $30 and replica jersey prices soared almost 60 percent, according to ESPN. As a single entity, the NFL (and other leagues) can set prices on what the market can bear in many aspects.

If the decision, expected either in the spring or summer of 2010, is decided in favor of the NFL, the following might occur, according to Munson: “Leagues will enjoy unfettered monopoly powers, salaries for players and coaches will drop, free agency will wither away, sponsors will pay more, fans will pay more for tickets, television and Internet broadcasts and for paraphernalia. And owners’ profits will soar.”

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