Major League Soccer or Major League Sham? Players Bring Suit to Bite the Hand That Feeds Them

Friday, January 1st, 1999 at 12:00 am by not available
not available, Major League Soccer or Major League Sham? Players Bring Suit to Bite the Hand That Feeds Them, 1999 Colum. Bus. L. Rev. 585

Over the past several decades the professional sports landscape in the United States has undergone a vast reconfiguration. Gone are the days when sports teams derived their revenues solely from local ticket sales and concessions. Today’s sports business is characterized by national television contracts, sponsorships and licensing agreements that produce millions of dollars of revenue for sports leagues and their respective teams. As a result, player salaries have skyrocketed as professional athletes capture a growing percentage of league related revenues. Although labor disputes are not new to the professional sports industry, the era of multi-million dollar contracts has engendered an atmosphere where players demand a bigger piece of a grossly inflated pie while team owners contend that business simply cannot continue as usual in the present state of affairs. Now that the dust has settled on the recent National Basketball Association (“NBA”) lockout, most commentators agree that it was primarily about one thing — money. Professional baseball, basketball, football and hockey have experienced this transformation first hand — those leagues have all been in existence for quite some time now. However, despite its past attempts, professional soccer has never become fully entrenched as a viable alternative to these “traditional” sports. In 1995, however, Major League Soccer (“MLS”) was created to firmly establish professional soccer in the United States by building on the interest and excitement generated in soccer by World Cup 1994. The organizers formed the league as a single entity enterprise in an attempt to avoid the mistakes of past soccer league failures and the current business problems that plague other professional sports leagues. Alan Rothenberg’s dream, however, has been threatened by a lawsuit from the most unlikely of plaintiffs — the players themselves. They allege that the MLS single entity structure has “the purpose and effect of eliminating all competition and preventing players from offering their services to MLS Member Teams in a competitive market.” This paper examines MLS’s current litigation from a labor law perspective and focus on the labor restraints created by MLS’s single entity structure. Necessarily, such an endeavor will be highlighted by a confluence of federal antitrust law and federal labor law. This paper suggests that a successful single entity defense will undermine the express purpose of federal labor law by distorting management’s incentives to engage in bona fide collective bargaining agreements with the players’ designated representatives on issues of paramount importance to these workers. These issues include salary structures, labor mobility, endorsement potential and personal licensing. Furthermore, MLS will not be the only professional sports league impacted by the outcome of this litigation. Other professional sports ventures, which have also structured leagues as single entities, will be immediately affected by the MLS decision.

Author Information

not available