Grow: The uncertain scope of baseball’s antitrust exemption

From SABR member Nathaniel Grow at FanGraphs on July 29, 2015:

This is the second installment in an occasional series examining baseball’s antitrust exemption. The first piece in the series looked at the historical evolution of the exemption, and in particular the U.S. Supreme Court’s evolving justification for baseball’s antitrust immunity. A future, final post will consider the practical impact that the exemption has had on Major League Baseball’s operations.

While many fans are aware that baseball is generally exempt from antitrust law, fewer realize that courts have adopted widely divergent views regarding the extent to which MLB’s operations are actually shielded from the law. For instance, just because MLB is generally immune from antitrust law does not mean that a court would necessarily give the league free reign to engage in anti-competitive practices in areas completely unrelated to professional baseball (such as if, for example, MLB Advanced Media — the league’s digital content distribution company — were to enter into a price-fixing scheme with other non-sports-related, Internet-streaming-video service providers).

Courts have traditionally disagreed regarding where to draw the line between MLB’s exempt and non-exempt conduct, and thus are deeply divided over the extent to which they will allow antitrust lawsuits to proceed against MLB. As a practical matter, then, anyone wishing to sue MLB under antitrust law may be able to do so – despite the league’s antitrust exemption – so long as they file their case in the right court.

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Originally published: July 29, 2015. Last Updated: July 29, 2015.