Arlen Spector, who served Pennsylvania and Philadelphia in the Senate from 1981 to 2011 penned an op-ed piece in the New York Times this weekend detailing his proposal to end the NFL Lockout. Spector says that Congress should leverage its power over the NFL through its anti trust exemption.
To ensure an agreement between the owners and players in time for the 2011 season, Congress should place a special condition on the continuation of the N.F.L.’s antitrust exemption: the owners and players must abide by a settlement procedure known as last-best-offer arbitration. This procedure would require the two sides to negotiate; if an agreement is not reached, each side would make its last best offer and an arbitrator would chose between the two. This arrangement creates an incentive for each side to make the more reasonable offer, lest the arbitrator pick the other side’s.
Specter noted that he tried to do this in the past when the Eagles threatened to move to Phoenix in 1980. He introduced legislation that would have made the exemption conditional on the league not allowing teams that were turning a profit to move. However, he said that NFL lobbyists fought it and got the bill defeated.
Now, the response I would expect people to have here is that "Congress has better things to do!" Which frankly I think is debatable. With the political gridlock not much is getting done anyway and plus overseeing this antitrust exemption is part of their responsibility. In fact, a bill has already been introduced that threatens to strip the NFL of its antitrust exemption. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), who introduced the bill, said, "At a time when the economy is struggling and the NFL has chosen to lock out its players, it is particularly inappropriate to allow the league to benefit from a special antitrust exemption."
That bill was blocked by House judiciary committee chair Lamar Smith (R-TX), who says that the dispute is a "private matter." He's partly right, but when one side has a special congressional anti-trust exemption.... It's not entirely private. In fact, the bill was in response to the ruling that the NFL acted in bad faith in it's TV negotiations, which is exactly what the exemption covers. It allows the NFL to negotiate TV contracts on behalf of all the teams. It would seem like that makes it completely relevant from Congress' standpoint.
In addition, a lost NFL season could have significant economic impact. Specter cites a study that estimates a missed NFL season would cost "$5 billion from lost jobs, decreased spending at local businesses and reduced tax revenue. In addition, billions of dollars in TV revenue and millions of dollars in ticket sales would vanish."
Frankly I'm inclined to agree with Specter here. I'm usually against any government involvement in things like this and generally I still am. However, I think this is a little different. This isn't a bailout or special treatment. In fact, it's quite the opposite. If the NFL's labor dispute is going cost countless numbers of lost jobs and tax revenue, I think it's completely fair to say that they shouldn't be enjoying special anti-trust exemptions from Congress.