Recognition of the National Football League as a Single Entity Under Section 1 of the Sherman Act: Implications of the Consumer Welfare Model

This article argues that Justice Rehnquist has analyzed the operational structure of the NFL in a manner that is consistent with proper antitrust enforcement policy, and expands upon the view that he espoused. It contends that the NFL is analogous to a law firm partnership, with the teams analogous to departments or partners that can make operating rules for the firm without fear of violating section 1 of the Sherman Act. In arriving at the opposite conclusion, both the Oakland Raiders and NASL courts relied on several cases involving player restraints that presupposed that teams in professional sports leagues, such as the NFL, are separate entities capable of an intra league conspiracy violating section 1. The Oakland Raiders and NASL courts reasoned that if the NFL teams are separate entities in some section 1 actions, such as player-restraint cases, they must be separate entities in all section 1 actions. However, both courts improperly relied upon the player-restraint cases because, as detailed below, a reexamination of the antitrust issues raised in the player-restraint cases undermines their precedential value.