June 30, 2009: In a move that could affect marketing, licensing and sponsorship deals throughout professional sports, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago that the National Football League and its 32 franchises did not engage in an illegal antitrust conspiracy by granting an exclusive trademark license to apparel manufacturer Reebok International, a division of adidas. The Court of Appeals in Chicago sided with an earlier decision by a lower court in a case filed by sports apparel manufacturer American Needle, based in Buffalo Grove, Ill., which sought to break the NFL's exclusive deal with Reebok, which was signed in 2001, on the grounds that it prevented fair trade and impeded competitive pricing. The Supreme Court agreed to review the decision despite the fact that the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice Antitrust Division supported the ruling. Among other lines, American Needle produces a series of vintage baseball caps for Major League Baseball.
A deciding factor was that the NFL itself had urged the Supreme Court to become involved in order to clarify the league's position in its exclusive deals across the board. According to the NFL, there still were issues left unanswered that would open "the door to repeated, costly antitrust suits that burden not only the joint venture participants, but also the federal courts." The NFL said it sought a Supreme Court verdict “in an effort to secure a uniform rule that recognizes the single-entity nature of highly integrated joint venture and obviates the uncertainty, chilling effects, and forum shopping that inevitably results from the current conflict among the circuits.” A decision is likely not to come until after Super Bowl XLIV in February. Back to Home Page