The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in a case that could have wide ranging implications for every major professional sports league in the U.S. (including the NFL, NBA, NHL, and the ATP) as well as player’s unions, manufacturers and fans. The central question for the court to decide is what defines a league? Is the NFL a single entity or is it made up of 32 separate and unique teams? American Needle argues that the NFL violated antitrust laws and gauged consumers when they negotiated a multimillion dollar exclusive merchandising contract with Reebok. The NFL says they need to act as a single entity because all the teams in the league are economically connected. If the court sides with the NFL, the NFL player’s union fears it could severely limit their ability to negotiate contracts, especially free agent contracts (the NFL player’s union is already predicting a lockout for the 2011 season based on contract negotiations). If the decision goes the NFL’s way, the ruling could pave the way for higher cost of NFL merchandise, parking, and ticket prices.
Richard M. Brunell, director of legal advocacy for the American Antitrust Institute
Brad Ruskin, partner and co-chair of the litigation department at Proskauer Rose LLP