Wednesday, July 22, 2009

American Needle vs. the NFL: Don't be so sure

It's a fair bet that most who have picked up on the American Needle v. NFL U.S. Supreme Court case have never read farther than Lester Munson's story which predicted a court win in the U.S. will hasten the apocalypse. Pro sports owners "will rule the world," as Doug Farraway just said on the FAN 590, Jim Balsillie will never be able to get a NHL team, no team will be able to improve through free agency.

Smart Football described Munson's tone as "all hysterical and apocalyptic," and the The Sporting Blog also had a very reasoned rebuttal pointing out that Munson was guilty of "a misunderstanding of the economics of the thing — the NFL and other pro sports leagues already auction off television packages as collectives."

It's damn entertaining to jump to wild conclusions for the sake of a 40-minute block of all-sports radio (look, Farraway just said they might as well bring back Eddie Shore!)

The rub is many people are just hearing about this, and Munson might have spread it on thick to get attention. The way some have spoken, it's like this is a walkover touchdown for the NFL. Please. No one knows how a court is going to rule, even if the SCOTUS leans more than a bit to the right politically. The SCOTUSBlog passed on an important take-home. The Supreme Court "sought first to get advice from the U.S. Solicitor General," before it elected to take the case. That is unusual:
"Ordinarily, when everyone involved in a case, plus outsiders, agree that the Court should review it, that is quite persuasive with the Court. But the Justices are looking for some legal advice before they act.

"When the Court asks the Solicitor General for the government’s legal views on a case, it often takes months for that office to respond. The Court does not set deadlines for such briefs. The new leaders of the Solicitor General’s office in the Obama Administration will determine what schedule they plan to keep."
Long story short, in a general sense, courts do not tend to award ultimate victory to one side in these matters. They also tend to be hands-off when it comes to how sports leagues manage their affairs, even when it's a practice which would be ruled illegal in other walks of life (i.e., entry drafts).

No doubt the big ball-and-stick leagues would love to reduce their player costs and increase what they charge for tickets and merchandise. You just don't know how a court will rule.

Antitrust case could be Armageddon (Lester Munson,

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