December 2, 2009
A Debate on American Needle v. NFL
Speaker: Dean Gary R. Roberts and Professor Max Huffman, Professor Antony Page will moderate
Time: 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Location: Wynne Courtroom
Contact: Shaun Ingram at firstname.lastname@example.org
The debate will center on the issues surrounding the American Needle case in the U.S. Supreme Court involving whether professional sports leagues are single firms or a collection of competitors for antitrust purposes. This program, which takes place in the Wynne Courtroom, will carry one hour of CLE credit (pending approval).
In American Needle v. NFL, the plaintiff, a licensee of intellectual property for purposes of producing hats with team logos, sued the league when its license was terminated. The league had chosen to grant an exclusive license to Reebok after Reebok won a competitive bid. American Needle's claim asserted a conspiracy among the individual NFL teams to restrain trade in violation of Section One of the Sherman Act. If it proved its claim, American Needle stood to win three times the harm it suffered, in addition to costs and attorney fees. American Needle lost on the ground that the NFL was a single entity, unable to conspire with itself. Any agreement among the teams was "intra-enterprise," and did not rise to the level of the "contract, combination or conspiracy" that Section One requires. The rule in American Needle is an extension of the Supreme Court's holding in Copperweld that a parent and a subsidiary corporation, because of their unity of purpose, cannot be held to have conspired in violation of Section One. The result of the holdings in cases like Copperweld and American Needle is to immunize conduct from the antitrust laws.
The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in American Needle and will hear the case in December or January. An opinion can be expected no later than June. We are holding a debate, with Dean Gary Roberts taking the position that the Seventh Circuit was correct to treat the NFL as a single entity; Professor Max Huffman taking the position that the Seventh Circuit erred; and Professor Antony Page moderating.