The NFL, and by extension other U.S. professional sports leagues, is looking to gain mammoth power over its players and vendors. And it could mean dramatic increases in ticket, T-shirt, and jersey prices for fans, lower salaries and possibly huge changes in the free agency rules.
Read this story by Lester Munson. It likely won't be decided for another year, but I have to believe it eventually will make it into the daily news cycle.
A case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court pits the NFL against American Needle Corp., a company that made hats with NFL team logos on them. American Needle lost its league contract when the league gave Reebok exclusive rights to make NFL hats.
American Needle sued, arguing antitrust infractions, and now the Supreme Court is going to hear the case. The NFL, despite winning in the lower courts, wants a broad ruling over all antitrust issues. The league could be ruled a single entity, competing with other sports leagues, rather than 32 teams competing against each other.
A favorable ruling would mean antitrust judgement against the NFL would become nearly impossible. It could spell disaster for the NFL Players Association, which gained free-agency and many other concessions through antitrust rulings. Only if, say the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB colluded to set hat or T-shirt prices, could an antitrust case be filed.
It's easy to see why the league wants this. It is a chance to make lots more money, put the brakes on rising player salaries, likely its biggest expense. Munson argues the owners also could cut into the free-agency rules as well as limit coaches' and coordinators' salaries.
More control could be placed over TV broadcasts as well, meaning the NFL Network could become the sole provider of all regular- and/or post-season broadcasts. Anyone who doesn't get that station in their cable subscription would lose out.
This sounds to me like putting the old Bell phone monopoly, which was broken-up in the 1984, back together because it was simpler when everyone paid their phone bill to the same place.
Any NFL, MLB, NBA, or NHL fan will tell you the leagues do not act together. Teams in a league offer different products and chase the best player talent. Why did we cheer when the Bears traded for quarterback Jay Cutler? Because it was the Bears' front office that made that decision, not the NFL dictating it.
The NFL has been successful because it created a system where franchises in large and small markets could thrive. While it allows all 32 teams to be competitive, it does not force them to be competitive. That is left to each individual front office. Look how many years the Arizona Cardinals were mediocre or worse before advancing to the Super Bowl this year. That wasn't a league decision, it was the franchise operator's decision.
McDonald's and Burger King franchises may offer the same food, but each individual restaurant is unique. Does that mean McDonald's and Burger King should be allowed to control the price of hamburgers and french fries?
Based on Munson's piece, this sounds like a bad idea for the NFL and other pro-sports leagues. The U.S. thrives on fair competition and spends a lot of time pushing that idea around the world. A decision making the NFL essentially a legal monopoly is not going to produce a better brand of football.
It likely is going to produce a more expensive brand of football, at least for fans.