American Needle Inc. v. NFL
Landmark Cases and Decisions in Sports Law (Jack Anderson ed., TMC Asser Press/Springer-Verlag 2012), Forthcoming
15 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2012
Date Written: June 20, 2012
In American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League, a 2010 case, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that the National Football League (NFL) clubs’ centralized and exclusive licensing of their individual trademarks through a wholly owned league subsidiary is not immune from judicial scrutiny under §1. This landmark decision has broad implications because its rationale suggests that all collective decisions by a U.S. professional sports league’s member clubs that reduce intrabrand economic competition among themselves (e.g., joint decisions regarding the ownership, number, and geographical location of teams, restrictions on the sale of broadcasting rights, labor relations issues, etc.) are subject to §1. Before describing and analyzing American Needle, this chapter explains how U.S. major professional sports leagues are structured and governed and briefly surveys the rulings of lower courts, which generally rejected the single entity defense. It concludes by reviewing how lower courts have applied American Needle to subsequent sports antitrust litigation and scholarly commentary regarding its future application to professional sports leagues.
Keywords: sports, licensing, trademarks, antitrust, Sherman Act, sports leagues
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