Unanimous Supreme Court Rules NFL Not a Single Entity, But 32 Separate, Competing Businesses
This is probably the correct outcome:
... "Directly relevant to this case, the teams compete in the market for intellectual property," Stevens said. "To a firm making hats, the Saints and the Colts are two potentially competing suppliers of valuable trademarks."My Comments:
American Needle was one of many companies that made NFL headgear until the league awarded an exclusive contract to Reebok. Lower courts threw out American Needle's lawsuit, holding that nothing in antitrust law prohibits NFL teams from cooperating on apparel licensing so the league can compete against other forms of entertainment.
But the high court turned away that theory and sent American Needle's antitrust lawsuit back to the lower court.
"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,' " Stevens said.
Just because NFL teams have a single organization, the National Football League Properties, to jointly develop, license and market its logos does not mean it can escape antitrust scrutiny, Stevens said.
"If the fact that potential competitors shared in profits or losses from a venture meant that the venture was immune from" antitrust law, Stevens said, "then any cartel" could evade the antitrust law simply by creating a 'joint venture' to serve as the exclusive seller of their competing products." ...
One NFL owner who is somewhat vindicated by this is Jerry Jones. He'll make a killing on separate licensing agreements of Dallas Cowboys paraphenalia.