The hallmark of an antitrust violation is an agreement which has the effect of raising price, lowering output, or rendering output unresponsive to consumer demand. Owners of clubs comprising Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League engage in a variety of exploitative activities that consumers cannot avoid by substituting rival products. The purpose of this Article is to analyze specific areas where these monopoly sports leagues harm a variety of groups, through the maintenance of a monopolistic structure that precludes competitive entry, or through specific restraints that have demonstrable anticompetitive effects. The analysis is designed to provide potential private and governmental plaintiffs with theories of antitrust liability to support litigation to vindicate the interests of sports fans, as well as to provide the policy justification for appropriate legislative intervention.
To be sure, American sports fans are treated to a very high level of entertainment by the four leading sports leagues, and reap a tremendous amount of enjoyment from professional sports. Sports leagues, through agreement among owners, have developed a variety of efficient ways to deliver a more improved product to their fans. Because the goal of this Article is to provide a roadmap for those interested in stronger enforcement of the antitrust laws, it will not focus on these desirable aspects of league cooperation. As Judge Richard Posner has written, just because firms lawfully cooperate in some procompetitive fashion, it does not allow that "there are no competitive gains from forbidding them to cooperate in ways that yield no economies but simply limit competition." This Article focuses on restraints in the latter category.
Stephen F. Ross, Antitrust Options to Redress Anticompetitive Restraints and Monopolistic Practices by Professional Sports Leagues, 52 Case W. Res. L. Rev. 133 (2002).