House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) issued the following statement regarding the National Football League’s lockout and the special broadcast television antitrust exemption enjoyed by professional football:
As you know, over the weekend the NFL Players Association decertified, the collective bargaining agreement expired, and the owners of the National Football League locked out the players, putting the NFL season is at risk. Obviously football fans don’t like this, but this is a much bigger issue than sports. The NFL is a $9 billion a year industry. If this lockout goes on, hundreds of thousands of workers may be laid off, and scores of local communities could be harmed economically.
As a result, later today, I will be introducing legislation to repeal the broadcast television antitrust exemption with regard to professional football. We are taking this action for several reasons:
First, a recent court decision highlighted the potential for abuse of these specially protected television contract negotiations in the football context. A federal judge in Minnesota found that the league manipulated its broadcast contracts to build up a lockout fund and gain leverage against the players. Judge Doty found this was done in bad faith, and wrote that “the NFL undertook contract renegotiations to advance its own interests and harm the interests of the players.”
Second, the congressionally created antitrust exemption, dating from 1961, is a specially granted anomaly. No other business benefits from an antitrust exemption for television negotiations. Most professional sports do not have such an exemption – not soccer, not tennis, and not golf. And neither do any amateur sports – not the Olympics, not college football and not college basketball.
Third, at a time when the economy is struggling and the NFL has chosen to lock out its players, it is particularly inappropriate to allow the league to benefit from a special antitrust exemption. The lockout has been estimated to take at least $5.1 billion out of local economies around the nation. This will bring about significant economic harm in economically ravaged cities like Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Buffalo. In that context it is appropriate for Congress to revoke an exemption that serves to unbalance the playing field between the parties.
Finally, there is a long line of precedents for Congress in general and the House Judiciary Committee in particular taking action in the wake of a professional sports work stoppage. In 1994, following the baseball strike, the Judiciary Committee under Chairman Brooks held hearings and passed legislation partially repealing baseball’s antitrust exemption, which culminated four years later in the enaction of the Curt Flood Act. In 1996, after the Browns left Cleveland, the Committee, under Chairman Hyde, again considered legislation and held antitrust hearings.
In 2001, under Chairman Sensenbrenner, after Major League Baseball announced the possible contraction and elimination of the Minnesota Twins franchise, we conducted hearings on antitrust legislation that I introduced. And in the last several years, as committee chairman I led a extensive investigation into concussions and traumatic brain injuries that resulted in significant improvements to NFL policies in this critical area.
As an additional matter, I will also be sending a letter to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, asking them to identify the potential economic impact of the lockout, including the impact on jobs, local communities, and state and local tax revenues. This will give us more in depth information on the extent of economic dislocation caused by the possible loss of the season.
Attached is the draft of the PLAY Act.