Multiemployer Bargaining, Antitrust Law, and Team Sports: The Contingent Choice of a Broad Exemption

By Harper, Michael C. | William and Mary Law Review, July 1997 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Multiemployer Bargaining, Antitrust Law, and Team Sports: The Contingent Choice of a Broad Exemption

Harper, Michael C., William and Mary Law Review


Twenty-four years after pronouncing that "Congress[,] . . . not . . . this Court[, must remedy] any inconsistency or illogic" in the long standing exemption of baseball, but not other sports from the reach of the antitrust laws,(1) the Supreme Court last term reduced substantially the uniqueness of Major League Baseball's control over its labor market. The Court did so not by exposing baseball to antitrust attack, but rather by clarifying that restrictions on player labor mobility and freedom of contact imposed by all North American leagues of professional sports teams(2) also enjoy an exemption from antitrust scrutiny as long as their labor markets are subject to collective bargaining.(3)

In Brown v. Pro Football, Inc.,(4) the Court held that employers could conspire and agree to take actions to impose controls on a labor market, if those actions "grew out of" and were "directly related to" a multiemployer bargaining process, did not offend the federal labor laws that sanction and regulate the process, affected terms of employment subject to compulsory bargaining, and concerned only parties to the collective bargaining relationship.(5) All major professional team sports clubs have joined with other league clubs to bargain in multiemployer units with unions representing the athletes that they employ. As long as a multiemployer bargaining relationship exists, league-imposed restraints on player labor markets should easily meet the Court's other conditions. The Brown holding, therefore, effectively enables leagues in every sport to be as free of antitrust constraints in order to control player mobility and salaries as Major League Baseball has been under its special, long standing antitrust exemption.(6)

How one greets Brown inevitably will depend in part on how one views the antitrust challenges that players have made against such league-imposed labor market restraints as restrictions on mobility between teams,(7) rookie drafts,(8) and salary caps.(9) Those individuals who think that the antitrust laws should be concerned only with restraints on product markets, and not with restraints on input markets in general or with labor markets in particular, may welcome Brown's exemption of labor market restraints.(10) Those individuals who think that the labor market restraints typically imposed by sports leagues are reasonable under an antitrust analysis that weighs heavily the contributions of such restraints to maintaining athletic balance that enhances the league's competitiveness with other forms of entertainment also may welcome the decision.(11) Others who believe that the antitrust laws should protect a player's negotiation of a free-market wage for any extraordinary services the player provides should give Brown a cold reception. This should be true for those concerned with the ultimate impact on the sports product of restraints discouraging talent development(12) and for those concerned with insuring the extraction of a "just" wage for labor from a cartel of employers.(13)

Regardless of their inclinations on these ultimate issues of antitrust law, however, both sports fans and lawyers (including those who are both), have reason to lament the result in Brown. For reasons elucidated in the final section of this Article,(14) sports fans interested primarily in uninterrupted presentations of athletic competition are likely to be disappointed by more work stoppages in professional sports as a result of Brown. For lawyers, whether sports fans or not, the Brown decision should be most troubling because it failed to provide a proper clarification of how antitrust law should accommodate federal labor law. The accommodation that Brown did articulate sacrificed antitrust goals to a degree unnecessary to the service of labor law goals.

As explained more fully below, in order to protect established and legally approved multiemployer collective bargaining in myriad industries other than sports, the Court properly rejected the players' lawyers' formulation of a limited antitrust exemption that would not have protected the concerted employer action challenged in Brown.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Multiemployer Bargaining, Antitrust Law, and Team Sports: The Contingent Choice of a Broad Exemption


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?