Wednesday, January 13, 2010

If It Will Please the Court? Football's Ironic Lack of Competition

Apparently not.  The National Football League is in front of the US Supreme Court because a clothing manufacturer is upset about restraint of trade--that the NFL can enforce clothing regs that limit the ability of non-preferred producers to sell their products to individual teams.  The issue at stake is whether the League is one business or 32 -- each team as a separate business.

So, this post seems both surprised and unsurprised that the Justices are baseball fans and largely ignorant of football.  Apparently, those with higher educations are less likely to be football fans.  Well, as my wife will attest each weekend in January, I am an outlier.  Perhaps the study did not control for age, as baseball is more popular with the older folks.

Anyhow, some of the Justices do ask informed questions (Kennedy asks whether protecting the QB more provides a competitive advantage that works against running teams, for instance).  Indeed:

"So … you are seeking through this ruling what you haven't gotten from Congress: an absolute bar to an antitrust claim?" she (Sotomayor) asks.
Levy denies that's his game, but it seems clear that Sotomayor is right. The NFL—as well as the NBA and NHL, both of which filed amicus briefs in support of their football counterpart—wants what Major League Baseball has: a broad antitrust exemption. When Scalia asks whether it would be anti-competitive for teams to fix the prices at which franchises can be sold, Levy says probably not. That feeds into everyone's fears about what kind of nefarious schemes the NFL would concoct with a favorable ruling.
 Turns out these eggheads are pretty damn smart.  The snarkiness of Slate, which I enjoy so much, seems to get in the way of what is, otherwise, an interesting case.

The irony I wanted to see some snarkiness about is: the football prides itself on competitition--that on any given Sunday, any team can win.  Upsets happen all the time, and the possibility is not just good for Vegas but for the league.  Yet the NFL does not want competition in the apparel side of the business.  Snark on that one, Slate.  If that makes any sense.

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