The U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow will hear arguments in American Needle v. NFL, a case ostensibly about who gets to make officially-licensed team hats.
But the underlying issue — whether the NFL and other sports leagues should be considered one business or multiple, privately-owned ones — could have a dramatic effect on professional sports. Only Major League Baseball now has an antitrust exemption.
Sports business and law observers have been weighing in on the case, but the commentary I found most surprising and compelling was by Drew Brees in Sunday’s Washington Post.
Surprising because Brees is the All-Pro quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, and he has a playoff game this weekend. (Granted, Brees was off last week, but most sports fans like to believe the players on our team are concentrating only on the next game; imagine Joe Flacco writing an op-ed about the health care debate as he prepared to play the Patriots.)
Brees, a member of the NFL Players’ Association Executive Committee, argues granting the NFL an antitrust exemption “would enable owners to exert total control over this multibillion-dollar business.” Such a ruling would be particularly onerous for the NFLPA as it negotiates a new collective bargaining agreement, he writes; there is already widespread discussion about a lockout for the 2011 season.
Like any good brief, Brees ends with a zinger, this one directed at two of the most high-profile owners in the league:
I hope that the justices of the Supreme Court recognize and ensure the continuance of the intense competition inherent in this game, and in the business behind the game. As readers of The Washington Post know well, NFL teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins are by no means a single entity — just ask Dan Snyder or Jerry Jones.