League Control of Market Opportunities: A Perspective on Competition and Cooperation in the Sports Industry

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An issue unsettled for at least the past decade is the proper characterization of a professional sports league for antitrust purposes. Recent litigation over the efforts of the National Football League to block the move by the Raiders from the Oakland to Los Angeles should have been the occassion for a significant judicial clarification. The Ninth Circuit decision is the case seeks to limit league discretion and give individual clubs the right to pursue their separate entrepreneurial advantage. When subjected to close examinations, however, the decision appears to be premised on themes that are fundamentally inconsistent. The present article suggests that a more coherent view of the antitrust issues in league governance requires that greater weight be given to the corporate nature of the league's enterprise. An outcome sensitive to this characteristic is more apt to satisfy the basic antitrust policy of enhancing consumer welfare. Other antitrust and public questions remain, but their resolution should not proceed from a conspiratorial view of league governance.