Archive for May 24th, 2010


NFL Ruling highlights need for Business Regulation

The Supreme Court this week ruled in a unaninmous decision that the NFL does not have broad anti-trust exemptions, and is therefore 32 seperate teams and not one single league. This decision, which came from a lawsuit brought about by an independant hat maker, should have broad, and important ramifications, and not just in the world of sports.

Many people who follow sports know that for far too long the NFL has been the big bad bully on the block, either pouting or fist-pounding its way into getting what it wants. When players went on strike following the 1981 season the NFL refused to back down and instead brought in replacement players. The move gave way to the UFL, and was disastrous in the short term, but eventually it did wonders for giving NFL owners broad discretion of players salaries. In 2002 ESPN canceled the short-lived television show Playmakers after the NFL sent them a harsh recommendation to do so, claiming the show gave the league a bad image. ESPN bent over, accordingly. The NFL has also cornered certain licensing agreements, most notably their exclusive deal with EA Sports over the popular Madden video game series ( in 2005 EA and the NFL teamed up to kick SEGA’s 2K series to the curb). The league also has exclusive deals with Coke, Coors Light, and Reebok, among others. In short, what “The Shield” wants, “The Shield” gets. But not this time.

Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote “Decisions by NFL teams to license their separately owned trademarks collectively and to only one vendor are decisions that ‘deprive the marketplace of independent centers of decisionmaking … and therefore of actual or potential competition.” He also noted that NFL teams regularly compete for different customers, and ticket revenues, so they have always acted in competition when it serves their purpose.

I applaud this decision, and think such a ruling is long overdue. I would also like to see the MLB stripped of its anti-trust status as well. What is true in the NFL is unfortunately true in a lot of business these days. Acting as one entity several business with common goals and markets will either team up or one will buy out the other in an attempt to control all or most of an existing market-share. Blockbuster was famous for this in the nineties when they almost single-handedly  bankrupted the entire video retail industry, and of course Bill Gates lost his Microsoft Anti-trust case a few years ago because his Windows operating system is standard software for computers, depriving consumers of alternative operating systems.

In the late nineteenth century the robber baron’s of old were notorious for collusion and broad market manipulation. Most notably the Union Pacific Railroad controlled distribution prices for all commerce it shipped and told manufacturers what to make and how much to sell it for. Most people, including Republicans Teddy Roosevelt, and Howard Taft thought these practices should be outlawed. Back then it wasn’t considered good business to deprive consumers of choices in what is supposed to be a free-market system. After all if you can only buy from one or two suppliers how is this any different than what Communist China, or Communist Russia do in regulating business?

But over the years times have changed, and Laissez faire Capitalism came into vogue. Many people felt that market regulation was too constrictive and over the last thirty years government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to controlling conumer choices. Since then America has become a multi-national behemoth with less and less real power brokers at the table. Right now their are only a handful of business that control most everything, and America is producing debt at unsustainable levels.

Of course I am a capitalist, and I want business to suceed. I have never wanted an oppresive or overly regulative government, but Capitalism is like a good child that acts up. Once and awhile it needs a good spanking. What is good for one business’ bottom line is not always good for the average American. And sometimes business’ need to be saved even from themselves. When companies like the NFL get too big they lose sight of fans and media that put them there to begin with. Antrit-trust status robs many fans of real innovation as well. Why should Bill Bidwell, the owner of the Arizona Cardinals, spend a lot of money on his own players when he can feast on the money brought in by other teams in the league? Why not let Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder spend all of their own money? Is it fair to fans across the league? Of course not, but sadly most owners do not care.

The NFL, like many corporations now, has gotten too big for its britches. You can not bully people the way they have for so long and expect to get away with it forever. I thank the Supreme Court for this decision. It is about time somebody put the NFL, and “Big Business” in its place.


Jack B.