In recent years, two law review articles have proposed that the United States regulate commercial sports through a direct federal commission, rather than through traditional antitrust remedies. Nevertheless, the practical realities of commercial sports’ power to influence government policy offset the many theoretical advantages to creating a specialized regulatory body to oversee commercial sports. The commercial sports industry already possesses an extraordinarily strong lobbying arm that has successfully lobbied for special legislation, such as the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. If commercial sports ever were to become administratively regulated, sports leagues would likely be able to use their lobbying power to obtain even greater concessions under U.S. law. Consequently, this Article argues that, albeit imperfect, antitrust law remains the most practical way to regulate commercial sports leagues.
Washington and Lee Law Review - Antitrust
by Geoffrey Rapp
Professor Nathaniel Grow has produced a creative, thoroughly researched piece arguing that antitrust has failed in the context of professional sports and calling for the creation of a national-level federal regulatory agency to address anticompetitive conduct by the major leagues. I respond to his diagnosis of antitrust’s failings and to his prescription.
by Nathaniel Grow
Four monopoly sports leagues currently dominate the U.S. professional sports industry. Although federal antitrust law—the primary source of regulation governing the industry—would normally be expected to provide a significant check on anticompetitive, monopolistic behavior, it has failed to effectively govern the leagues due to both their well-entrenched monopoly status and the unique level of coordination necessary among their respective teams. Consequently, the four leagues today each, in many respects, enjoy unregulated monopoly status in what is estimated to be a $67 billion industry.
As one might expect, these leagues use their largely unchecked monopoly power to injure the public in various ways. By restricting expansion, leagues create an artificial shortage of franchises enabling their existing teams to extract billions of dollars in stadium subsidies from U.S. taxpayers. Similarly, by preventing their franchises from individually licensing their broadcast rights nationally or over the Internet, the leagues are able to demand significantly higher fees from television networks and consumers than would be obtainable in a competitive marketplace while at the same time subjecting viewers to arcane and outdated blackout provisions.
Unfortunately, existing proposals in the academic literature to remedy this undesirable state of affairs are both impractical and unlikely to be effective. This Article instead proposes a surprisingly often overlooked solution: the creation of a federal sports regulatory body. Because the U.S. professional sports leagues today effectively operate as natural monopolies—with nearly 150 years of history establishing that competing leagues cannot sustainably coexist in a sport for any significant length of time—direct government regulation of the industry is warranted. Indeed, a specialized regulatory body would be particularly well suited to ensure that the leagues’ activities are aligned with the public interest, while at the same time accommodating the industry’s unusual economic characteristics.