The Supreme Court rejected the National Football League’s request for broad antitrust law protection Monday, saying that it must be considered 32 separate teams – not one big business – when selling branded items like jerseys and caps.
“Although NFL teams have common interests such as promoting the NFL brand, they are still separate, profit-maximizing entities, and their interests in licensing team trademarks are not necessarily aligned,” said the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for an unanimous court.
The high court reversed a lower court ruling throwing out an antitrust suit brought against the league by one of its former hat makers, who was upset that it lost its contract for making official NFL hats to Reebok International Ltd.
American Needle, Inc. sued, claiming the league violated antitrust law because all 32 teams worked together to freeze it out of the NFL-licensed hatmaking business and gave Reebok an exclusive 10-year license.
The company lost and appealed to the Supreme Court but the NFL did as well, hoping to get broader protection from antitrust lawsuits.
- Associated Press