Thursday, January 21, 2010

American Needle vs. NFL--What is it?

Let me preface this post with this undeniable truth: It's a topsy-turvy upside-down world when I agree with Drew Brees. But we will get to that. Today we learned that this Supreme Court is all kinds of wacky, and willing to overthrow 60+ years of precedents and ignore things that are just obviously true (in the name of precedent). If the Supreme Court can say, "Sure, corporations deserve every single bit of First Amendment, if you define the First Amendment as pouring money into campaigns with no limits whatsoever)", then who can say for sure how they will rule on any other case?

If you haven't heard about American Needle vs. NFL, you will soon. Dr. Jason Johnson describes the quick history this way: "In the 1990’s you could buy a Cowboys Jersey from Adidas, a John Elway hat from Champion or a Donovan McNabb T-shirt from Nike. But all of that came to an end in 2002 when the NFL signed a 10-year exclusive clothing contract with Reebok, cutting everyone else out of the NFL apparel business until 2012."

American Needle is challenging the NFL's right to sign such contracts. That's the short version. Dr. Johnson also notes that we have seen what happens with the NFL signs these kinds of deals--$60 EA Madden games, because it is the only officially licensed video game for any video game platform. Compare that to the NBA games, where there is some real competition amongst game makers.

So why is this case about more than a clothing apparel manufacturer wanting in on Reebok's exclusive market? Because the NFL wants it to be. The NFL already won the right from lower courts to act as a "single entity" when dealing with apparel companies and the like. Meaning, the NFL is one big structure when they are protecting their NFL logo, and the like. Yay for Corporate Synergy! But for some reason, not enough for the NFL.

Which makes lots of folks nervous. And by lots of folks, I mean the NFL Player's Association. Drew Brees, writing in Washington Post, wonders what the NFL might do if all 32 teams are always allowed to act as a single entity, "What might the owners do? They could agree to end or severely restrict free agency, continue to enter into exclusive agreements that will further raise prices on merchandise, lock coaches into salary scales that don't reward them when they're promoted and set higher ticket prices (including preventing teams from competing through ticket discounts). These and other concerns prompted the NFL Players Association -- along with the players associations of Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League -- to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court last fall, arguing against the notion of the NFL as a single entity."

But hey, Drew Brees and every player in every professional sport, don't worry! An NFL senior VP went to Congress and promised, cross-their-heart, that the NFL isn't looking to game unions with this whole All 32 Teams Make One Unit thing.

Don't worry Drew Brees, and the NFLPA--it really seems that even the most reactionary, activist judges on the Supreme Court have some trouble making the jumps the NFL is making. In fact, they seem awfully close to rethinking that whole clothes monopoly that the NFL had won from the lower courts.

From the SCOTUS Blog:
"Measuring the intensity of the probing by the Justices, it was apparent that the NFL’s lawyer, Gregg M. Levy, was under more pressurer [sic] than American Needle’s counsel. He had a simpler argument, repeatedly storessing [sic] that NFL individual teams have no economic power of their own, but that was an argument largely confined to the single-entity question. He had significant difficulty, it seemed, navigating through the Justices’ questions on how legally to justify the cap-selling monopoly the NFL and its teams had awarded to Reebok International and how to show that that approach was crucial to the success of staging pro football games."

(Reason he had difficulty? It's completely impossible to justify that argument when asked directly about it)

So, to summarize, I think (I admit, I'm no law-talking guy): The NFL signed a bunch of exclusive deals back in the early 2000's. American Needle, a former provider of NFL gear, sued over Reebok's exclusive right to manufacture NFL goods, arguing that it is essentially a Trust, and leads to unfair prices for consumers. Which is true, but they lost their case. But the courts that awarded that case to the NFL didn't go far enough for the NFL, when it came to giving them anti-trust exemptions. The NFL looked to expand their collective right to do things that would be considered anti-trust in any other industry. And the Supreme Court, even though they are fucking insane right now, reacted with suspicion and doubt. Even Scalia! Smell that? It smells like NFL ownership overreach.

1 comment:

Muumuuman said...

Luckily for the NFL, they can pump as much money as they like into political campaigns and fill the supreme court with like minded judges. Corporations deserve more rights than just plain people! Soon, we can return to the good old feudal times, except now cooperations replace lords and kings. Halle-falluja!