29 May 2010

Baseball and Football

The U.S. Supreme Court recently re-affirmed that antitrust laws apply to football. More particularly, they apply to relationships between the teams -- the National Football League is not to be treated as a single entity selling a single product.

Go here for the decision.

This is in contrast to baseball, and "Major League Baseball," and the disparity in the legal treatment of the two favorite sports of the US came about through an intriguing historical accident. Back in the 1920s, judges still cared (at least sporadically) about the separate spheres of the federal and state governments, and still interpreted the interstate commerce clause to mean something specific -- movement of people or goods across state lines.

So when the subject of enforcing federal antitrust laws in a baseball context first arose, the courts said the laws can't apply, because baseball teams aren't engaged in moving anybody or anthing anywhere. The stadium stays in one place! Customers coming to it may cross state lines, but that is their concern. This visiting team generally crossed state lines to get to the home team's park, but that is incidental. The actual game is intra-state. That was the justification for the immunity.

In the 1930s, the commerce clause came to mean anything it had to mean. So logically, the antitrust immunity for baseball could have been reconsidered. But it wasn't. It remained in place as a sort of relic of the old days.

In 1972,in the Curt Flood case, the Supreme Court admitted that this makes baseball an "established aberration," but said the immunity will stand until Congress changes it.

I'm okay with that. As I believe I've indicated in this blog before, I think the result is rational as to baseball, for reasons the SCOTUS opinion didn't so much as mention. When the Red Sox play the Yankees, they are both in the business of putting on a show -- the same show. More broadly, all of the teams in the two leagues of MLB are in the business of puttinbg on the season-long show that begins with spring training and ends with the World Series. They have the same overriding interest in maintaining public fascination with that show, and this retaining their viability for the television audience ands the advertisers who pay the big bucks. It is all a single enterprise.

Still, I'd like to see the NFL get the benefit of the same immunity. Their stadiums (stadia?) stay in place, too.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.