As I’m sitting here watching the A’s about to beat the Tigers (wishful thinking), I realized I don’t know a lot about the business of baseball beyond Moneyball. In some sorts, the idea of baseball the game being a business, an overarching corporation, never really crossed my mind. In fact, I hadn’t heard about baseball’s monopoly exemption until today. Having gone to baseball games all my life, it just makes sense to me to have one Major league. It’s a game, not a big business. Except…it is. And a really really big one that’s been allowed to flourish totally unchallenged at that.
So here’s the deal. Despite U.S. antitrust laws, Major League Baseball has been able to completely monopolize the baseball market (that seems so odd – “the baseball market”) since the American League joined with the National League in 1903. With the success of this alliance, of course, other leagues came about in an attempt to challenge the AL/NL partnership. Most notably, the Federal League, which in 1914 was perceived by fans as another major league, filed a lawsuit against the MLB in 1915 on the grounds that the MLB operated as a monopoly. The case was eventually dismissed, and the Federal League was split up into the AL and the NL. No other case has come close to challenging MLB’s dominance since 1972.
My question is, if baseball can effectively have an exemption from antitrust laws, why can’t other sports have their own exemptions? What makes baseball different from, say, football – another all American sport – which has multiple competing leagues? Granted the National Football League is clearly the dominating force in football, other leagues, like the Arena League or the UFL, do in fact exist. What’s keeping baseball, and the government for that matter, from stepping up to the plate on this?