We were recently discussing
how the idea of "officially licensed" gear for professional sports teams is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, anyone could produce gear for fans. However, there's a Supreme Court case looking at this issue, involving the NFL's exclusive license deal with Reebok, and reader Fitz points us to a quite well argued op-ed by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees explaining the harm that such exclusive deals do
, noting that it seems like a clear violation of antitrust rules, in that all of the different NFL teams are effectively teaming up to exclude competition:
The NFL originally won the case because the lower courts decided that, when it comes to marketing hats and gear, the 32 teams in the league act like one big company, a "single entity," and such an entity can't illegally conspire with itself to restrain trade. The NFL-Reebok deal is worth a lot of money, and fans pay for it: If you want to show support for your team by buying an official hat, it now costs $10 more than before the exclusive arrangement.
Amazingly, after the NFL won the case, it asked the Supreme Court to dramatically expand the ruling and determine that the teams act as a single entity not only for marketing hats and gear, but for pretty much everything the league does. It was an odd request -- as if I asked an official to review an 80-yard pass of mine that had already been ruled a touchdown. The notion that the teams function as a single entity is absurd; the 32 organizations composing the NFL and the business people who run them compete with unrelenting intensity for players, coaches and, most of all, the loyalty of fans.
Brees rips apart that argument by noting the competition he, himself, faced as a free agent -- a right that players only got after a series of court battles. This isn't a huge surprise. Like plenty of other businesses, sports leagues have a keen understanding of what monopoly rents are, and do everything possible to profit from them.