Senate Judiciary Committee targets MLB antitrust exemption

Senate Judiciary Committee targets MLB antitrust exemption

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has set its sights on Major League Baseball’s century-old antitrust exemption.

Bipartisan committee members, including Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to the nonprofit Advocates for Minor Leaguers asking for more further information on the Antitrust Exemption and its interplay with three developments in baseball: the minor leaguer compensation structure, the MLB-orchestrated reduction in the number of minor league affiliates, and the state of the MLB international amateur system . The two-page letter, dated Tuesday, is also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Mike Lee, R-Utah.

“We need to examine how Major League Baseball’s 100-year-old antitrust exemption affects the operation of Minor League Baseball teams and the ability of Minor League Baseball players to earn a decent living,” said Durbin, the U.S. Senate Majority Whip, in a statement. “This bipartisan request for information will help inform the Committee of the impact of this exemption, particularly with respect to minor leagues and international prospects. We need to ensure that all professional baseball players can play on a pitch. fair and level.

“This is about ensuring a level playing field for the minor leaguers and its players,” Grassley said in a statement. “MLB’s Special Antitrust Exemption should not impose labor or contraction issues on Minor League teams and players. Baseball is America’s pastime, and that means more than the major leagues.

MLB declined to comment.

Antitrust laws are meant to prevent companies from engaging in anti-competitive practices, but MLB has maintained its exemption since a 1922 Supreme Court ruling.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized this as an error and declined to extend the exemption to other professional sports,” said Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, in a press release. “The Court, however, left it to Congress to fix the error. Today, four senior United States senators, including two from each political party, took a significant step in that direction.

“Minor league players are by far the group most affected by baseball’s antitrust exemption. MLB owners shouldn’t have a special license to underpay their workers. We’re confident Congress will recognize that anytime soon.” throughout this process and ultimately repeal baseball’s antitrust exemption for issues involving minor league players.

Of the various sports stakeholders, major league players could be the least affected. For one, they are represented by a union, and labor law presides rather than antitrust law when a collective bargaining agreement is in place between management and employees.

Major league players were also excluded from the antitrust exemption in the Curt Flood Act of 1998, which preserved the antitrust exemption for the rest of MLB business, but recently empowered major league players to challenge the antitrust rules if they wanted to. (Notably, to do so would essentially require dissolving the union, presumably with the intention of re-establishing it later. NFL and NBA players undertook this process, but MLB players never did. do.)

The minor leaguers, however, do not have a union.

“So you have the issue of the treatment of minor league players, and that’s obviously something that, if there were no exemption, would be contested,” said Penn State’s Center executive director Stephen Ross. for the Study of Sports in Society and a former attorney for the US Department of Justice, during an interview last year. “A guy playing today for the Altoona Curve gets paid by the Pittsburgh Pirates. How much does the Pirates get paid? He gets paid on a scale that major league baseball teams have agreed to. In the lack of antitrust exemption, it is illegal.

In the minor leagues, players are paid according to a schedule established by the 30 major league teams. Indeed, these 30 companies agree on the wages that their employees, the players of the minor leagues, can touch or not.

“Even Google and Facebook wouldn’t agree on pricing,” Ross said. “If they did, they would go to jail. … When the 30 owners say that we are going to play 162 games, it is an agreement between the owners. When the owners say the strike area is measured here, there and something else, that is an agreement between the owners. And when the owners say this is the schedule for paying minor league players, that’s an agreement between the owners.

Baseball’s antitrust exemption affects other areas of the business. If it were to be repealed entirely, further legal challenges over how MLB handles issues such as merchandise licensing, franchise movement and television blackouts could be on the way.

Grassley represents Iowa, where MLB territorial rights prevent people from watching Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Royals, Twins and White Sox games through MLB’s streaming service, MLB.tv. (The only way to legally watch these teams in Iowa would be to subscribe to a distributor, or multiple distributors, with those teams’ respective regional sports networks.)

“I can tell you that the periodic power outages are a very frustrating experience for many Iowans,” Grassley said in a 2014 statement.

This isn’t Lee’s first foray into baseball’s antitrust exemption. Last April, he, the senses. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley and Marsha Blackburn, all Republicans, introduced a bill to remove the sport’s antitrust exemption called the “Competition in Professional Baseball Act”. The bill was introduced in response to Commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision to move the 2021 MLB All-Star Game from Atlanta, which was a direct reaction to a controversial election law passed by Republicans in Georgia.

Grassley at the time also tore up MLB’s decision.

In March, which would be the penultimate day of the MLB lockout, Durbin tweeted, “Enough.”

“After nearly 100 days of MLB lockdown, it’s time to reconsider MLB’s special antitrust exemption, which allows it to act as a legal monopoly,” Durbin wrote. “Fans across America deserve better. Message to owners: Unlock the lock and play ball.”

A few days later, Durbin said he would hold a hearing on the antitrust exemption.

“I think it’s long overdue for us to have a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on this matter,” Durbin told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I look forward to hearing Major League Baseball streamline its legal status today with this decision from 100 years ago.

“And the net result of that, of course, is that they have the power within their companies to do things that other companies can’t even contemplate.”

In 2021, Blumenthal proposed a $550 million relief fund for minor league teams impacted by COVID-19. Blumenthal was also candid as MLB revamped the minor leagues, hiring teams.

Passing legislation that ultimately changes baseball’s antitrust exemption has mostly been unsuccessful. When Republicans introduced the Professional Baseball Competition Act in 2021, Ross said the legislation had “no” chance of passing.

“There has to be a real change in the political culture to want to stop all the practices that would be stopped,” Ross said at the time, “and I don’t see that happening.”

A bipartisan bill would likely have a better chance of being passed. But, in the 1990s, legislation to repeal the exemption was co-sponsored by Liberal and Conservative senators.

“I challenge you to find any other legislation that has been backed by bipartisan senior senators and backed by organized labor and consumer groups who lost because people like Senator Joe Biden, Senator Ted Kennedy, the Senator Paul Simon and Senator Diane Feinstein all opposed it because of their ties to major league owners,” Ross said last year.

Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a bill in March to remove baseball’s antitrust exemption entirely. A bill that deals more narrowly with the exemption as it relates specifically to minor leaguers would be a different test.

(Photo by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Richard Durbin: Tom Williams/Pool via AP)

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