Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The NFL Labor Impasse

My first impulse is to enjoy the NFL labor impasse, because I have heard so many people complain about the baseball strike, and how they were not going to follow baseball anymore because of it. In point of fact, the other major sports have all had labor disputes at least as serious as the baseball one, yet nobody ever complains about them. Let these fair-weather fans now eschew football!

The dispute has been characterized as how to divide up a $9.3 billion pie, for that is the yearly revenue generated by football. This is basically an accurate characterization, as the other issues are minor. Thus, it is like a divorce case in which the only issue is division of property. I had one like that (which still required over 70 hours of my time to resolve), but most divorces are much more complicated, involving division of debts, spousal support, child support, and child custody issues in addition to the relatively simple division of property issue.

With division of this huge pie being the only issue, one would think a resolution could be had, but both sides have dug in their heels for a fight. As with any labor stoppage, both sides will sacrifice huge sums of money due to their intransigence. But it is hard to feel sorry for either side, as it is billionaires fighting against millionaires.

That football is so popular is a sad commentary on the American culture, for it is a game of violence. Besides that, it is unwatchable, unlike baseball and most other sports. One simply cannot follow 22 players moving in 22 different directions for a few seconds. At least with baseball the actions come linearly, one after another, and you can actually watch it and enjoy it. My conclusion is that the country would be better off without football. Let us put our efforts into non-violent pursuits, and forget football. My hope is that the labor dispute is never settled.

4/26/11 update.  Analyzing the Judge's decision issued yesterday lifting the lockout, the Judge reviewed the history of the NFL litigation, starting with the 1976 Mackey case, in which the Rozelle Rule (regulating free agency) was found to be an anti-trust violation.

The Court then reviewed other litigation to date, and then went through a boring discussion of procedural issues, before finally concluding it had jurisdiction. On page 68 of the 89-page decision, it finally got to the merits.

The Court noted the test for granting preliminary relief is irreparable harm and chances of success on the merits in the underlying lawsuit. The irreparable harm test is easily met because of the shortness of the average career of an NFL player. The Judge then concluded the players had established "a fair chance of success on the merits". Hence the injunction gets issued.

4/29/11 update.  Another sports anti-trust issue was presented recently when MLB took control of the Los Angeles Dodgers. This raises the question of whether MLB is a single entity for business purposes, and if so, when is it going to lose its antiquated exemption from anti-trust laws? If the Commissioner can forcibly take control of an owner's property from him, how can it be said that each club is a separate legal entity? It seems to me that baseball is skating on thin ice here.

Football is also skating on thin ice, as the NFL looks like a single legal entity when it sets rules and employment conditions collectively, instead of team by team. The American Needle case saw the Supreme Court ruling 9-0 that each NFL club is a separate legal entity, but when the NFL insists on operating as one entity, as it does when dealing with the players, it really starts to look like it is running afoul of anti-trust laws.

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