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Supreme Court Yet Again Declines to Strike Down MLB Antitrust Exemption

Major League Baseball logoThe U.S. Supreme Court again declined to hear challenges to MLB’s antitrust exemption, as two appeals regarding alleged collusion regarding the hiring of scouts and an argument that the Chicago Cubs suppressed competition with a Wrigley Field expansion were denied.

The two cases had already been dismissed in lower courts. The first, brought by scouts Jordan Wyckoff and Darwin Cox, argued that MLB was colluding to keep salaries for scouts lower because teams were agreeing not to hire scouts already employed by other teams. The second was from owners of rooftop bleachers outside Wrigley Field, who  argued that the Cubs had constructed scoreboards and signs to lessen the value of their venues. In both cases, the antitrust exemption was the core of their argument, and the Supreme Court once again rejected those arguments and dismissed the appeals.

The antitrust exemption, first granted by an appeals court in 1922 and then unanimously affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, holds that MLB is exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act because it was a state-centric business and not subject to federal commerce laws. The exemption has been whittled away a little over the years, but in general the Supreme Court has consistently held that it still stands, and indeed Congress effectively upheld it as well in 1998 while granting more freedom to players. It could be overturned by Congress — and, indeed, that threat is made whenever a member of Congress is dissatisfied with MLB — but right now there’s no such move on the horizon.

Of the two cases, the Wrigley Field appeal is the most interesting. The Cubs and the rooftop-bleacher owners have been battling for years, even after an agreement that cut the Cubs a portion of bleacher revenues. In this case, owners argued the Cubs were acting in an anti-competitive manner by erecting new sideboard and signs that cut off view of the playing field. From Bloomberg:

The Cubs case involved the rooftop businesses that operate across the street from Wrigley Field’s outfield bleachers. The property owners accused the team and Ricketts of trying to take over the rooftop market by buying up businesses and, when that effort failed, expanding the park with bigger bleachers and new scoreboards to block the view from some of the rooftops.

“Baseball’s antitrust exemption no longer serves any purpose but to give baseball a special status never intended by Congress and which is ripe for abuse,” the rooftop businesses argued in their appeal….

Lower courts upheld the antitrust exemption in both cases. Major League Baseball urged the Supreme Court not to intervene, saying any changes should be left to Congress.

“This court has consistently held that if the exemption is to be altered or curtailed, only Congress can do so,” the league and its clubs argued.

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