Antitrust Exemption

Posted in Sports

While I was pretending to be surprised that House Republicans are trying to stop George Soros from buying a stake in the Washington Nationals, I did a little recreational research into antitrust laws and sports. Baseball is the only major sport that has an antitrust exemption from the federal government, meaning it can do crazy bullshit like, let’s say, eliminating entire teams or denying the sale or relocation of teams. Check this out:

In Piazza v. Major League Baseball (1993), Vince Piazza sued baseball after it blocked San Francisco Giants owner Bob Lurie from selling the team to Piazza, who planned to move it to St. Petersburg, Fla. MLB then approved a sale, for $15 million less, to Peter Magowan that kept the team in San Francisco. A federal judge ruled that baseball’s restrictions on team relocation were not protected by the exemption. However, the judge then ordered a trial to further explore whether he was incorrect about the scope of baseball’s exemption. On the eve of trial, Piazza reportedly received a $6 million settlement from MLB and the hearing never happened.

Why do we give baseball special treatment? So Congress can schedule hearings on steroid use, for one. But why don’t we do for sports what we do for television? Create some sort of federal athletic commission and give it authority to oversee the big four leagues. Hell, professional sports is interstate commerce. And the preferred status the big four receive (see USFL v. NFL) is not unlike the preferred status that broadcast networks receive.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not interested in listening to a government blowhard complain about end zone celebrations any more than I wanted to hear Michael Powell bitch about a single tit. But wouldn’t an independent government agency be an ideal arbitrator between a league and its players? Between a league and the television networks competing for airing rights? And wouldn’t it solve the steroid problem virtually overnight if it weren’t the leagues’ responsibilty to self‐police?