High Court Rules Against NFL In Antitrust Case

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the exclusive merchandising deal that the NFL has with Reebok is an infringement of antitrust laws. The challenge to the deal was brought by a company that once produced NFL team caps and claims it was frozen out of the business by the Reebok deal.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Now, to the business of sports. It's business as usual today in the National Football League, following what could have been a business-changing decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Yesterday, the justices voted unanimously against giving the NFL broad protection from anti-monopoly laws.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: The Supreme Court decision was an immediate victory for American Needle, a company that makes NFL-branded hats. It had sued the NFL, saying the league violated antitrust laws when the NFL gave Reebok an exclusive license to sell hats. American Needle lost its initial challenge and appealed to the Supreme Court. The NFL took the unusual step of backing American Needle's appeal. The league was hoping that if the high court ruled in favor of the NFL and decided the league was, in fact, a single business - and thus exempt from antitrust law and the licensing deal- it would give the league broader protection from antitrust laws.

Daniel Glazer is a sports law expert.

Mr. DANIEL GLAZER (Attorney): It would've given the NFL significant bargaining leverage in certain of its commercial and employment arrangements.

GOLDMAN: According to the NFL Players Association, which opposed the league's request for broad protection, a pro-NFL decision by the Supreme Court could've increased ticket prices, ended or crippled free agency for players, fundamentally altered the way fans watch football on TV. But the court put those football doomsday scenarios on hold. It rejected the NFL's single-entity argument and said the league must be considered 32 teams, which are - in the words of outgoing Justice John Paul Stevens - separate, profit-maximizing entities.

The American Needle case now goes back to a lower court.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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