Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Put an End to MLB's Antitrust Exemption

Posted: Apr 14, 2021 8:00 PM
Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Put an End to MLB's Antitrust Exemption

Source: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Republican Sens. Mike Lee (UT), Ted Cruz (TX), Marco Rubio (FL), Josh Hawley (MO), and Marsha Blackburn (TN) are taking action after the MLB pulled the All-Star game from Atlanta over misleading concerns to do with Georgia's new election law. The game was moved to Denver, which is much less diverse and with more strict voting laws. Atlanta, as a result, will face considerable revenue loss. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) is leading the charge in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill's sponsors introduced legislation which says "professional baseball clubs shall not be exempt from the antitrust laws" from the Sherman Act. 

According to Michael McCann with Sportico, "the impact and scope of MLB’s exemption has narrowed over the last 50 years," but "A complete repeal of the exemption would effectively transform MLB’s vulnerability to antitrust scrutiny compared to to that experienced by the NBA, NFL and NHL." MLB, meanwhile, has been able to maintain a monopoly over baseball. 

Gabe Lacques of USA Today calls it a "political cudgel." 

Lawmakers have for years taken issue with the antitrust exemption--in place since 1922 thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Federal Baseball Club v. National League--though it's generated a particular amount of buzz lately.

On Monday, Sen. Hawley discussed the need for the proposal from an overall antitrust perspective on "Tucker Carlson Tonight."

He also appeared with Sens. Lee and Cruz during an afternoon press conference.

According to a press release from Sen. Lee's office:

“Consumers benefit when businesses compete, and baseball is no different. In fact, a professional sports league should understand best of all the benefits of competition,” said Sen. Lee. “Instead, Major League Baseball has used its judicially fabricated antitrust immunity to suppress wages and divide up markets for decades—conduct that is plainly illegal, and sometimes criminal, in any other industry. We should have done this decades ago, but when billion-dollar businesses start engaging in political extortion it becomes even more pressing to end their special treatment.”

“For nearly a century, Major League Baseball has enjoyed a special exemption from antitrust laws that other professional sports leagues do not,” said Sen. Cruz. “Major League Baseball asks for your ID when you pick up tickets at will-call, but they have made it clear they oppose photo ID requirements to vote. If Major League Baseball is going to act dishonestly and spread lies about Georgia’s voting rights bill to favor one party against the other, they shouldn’t expect to continue to receive special benefits from Congress.”

“MLB and woke mega-corporations have been coddled by government for too long,” said Sen. Hawley. “For decades, the MLB has been given a sweetheart deal by Washington politicians. But if they’d prefer to be partisan political activists instead, maybe it’s time to rethink that. With their capitulation to the left-wing Twitter mob and support for Biden’s big lie about election integrity, they’ve forfeited any right to an anti-trust exemption. They must be held to the same standard as the rest of American business.”

“A corporation that happily does business with the communist regimes in Cuba and China but caves to woke CEOs who want to punish states with Voter ID does not deserve any special immunities in antitrust law,” said Sen. Blackburn.

“For decades, Major League Baseball has enjoyed a special exemption from the same antitrust laws that govern other businesses in our nation,” Sen. Rubio said. “The league has been able to escape scrutiny in part thanks to its perception as a good-faith guardian of America’s national pastime. But with its reprehensible decision to play politics and punish the State of Georgia – and countless small and minority-owned Georgian businesses – by moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta, the MLB has shown its willingness to use its market power, derived from its antitrust exemption, irresponsibly. Now, Congress is obligated to revisit this unique treatment.”

“Major League Baseball has enjoyed constitutionally questionable antitrust protections for a century, yet it has decided to act in a partisan manner by punishing the state of Georgia for completely reasonable voter integrity and election security legislation,” said. Rep. Duncan. “Commissioner Manfred’s decision was ill-advised and will cost Atlanta small businesses, many of which are minority-owned, around $100M in economic activity. Furthermore, public polling has consistently shown overwhelming bipartisan support for voter ID laws, which are the cornerstone of the Georgia elections reform bill. This is just the latest in a wave of corporate decisions to ‘Go Woke.’ If companies or organizations want to undermine efforts to ensure the integrity of our elections process, then they invite increased scrutiny of their business practices. I urge Major League Baseball to reconsider this short-sighted decision, and I urge my colleagues to stand strong against the onslaught of the Woke Left on daily American life.”

Lest anyone frame the quest for repeal as a partisan project, McCann also wrote:

This isn’t the first time MLB has faced a threat by both Democratic and Republican members of Congress. In 2001, Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) and Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) introduced a bill to eliminate MLB’s exemption. It didn’t advance, perhaps in small part because President George W. Bush was former owner of the Texas Rangers and likely wouldn’t sign it. A few years later, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) questioned the merits of MLB’s exemption while criticizing MLB and MLBPA for steroids. In 2015, McCain and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) teamed up to propose legislation that would have limited the exemption in response to concerns about pro games being blacked out. More recently, Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Massachusetts) and the bipartisan Save Minor League Baseball Task Force signaled a desire to review MLB’s legal protections in light of treatment of minor league teams.

Even Robert Gehrke, as much as he joined in on the campaign to mislead about the Georgia law, and criticized Sen. Lee's motivations, expressed his own dissatisfaction with the MLB exemption in writing for the Salt Lake Tribune. 

Objections have been raised with MLB's exemption to do with minor league baseball, relocation, and intellectual property, among other issues. Under the bill, MLB will be open to legal risk facing such concerns.