Congress to MLB on minor-league contraction: You remember us, right, the ones with control over your antitrust exemption?

Yesterday more than 100 members of Congress, many of them representing cities that would lose minor-league teams under MLB’s minor-league contraction plan, issued an open letter to MLB expressing their “firm opposition” to the plan and urging the league to “strongly reconsider” it. And as NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra notes, the letter includes an implicit threat:

The abandonment of Minor League clubs by Major League Baseball would devastate our communities, their bond purchasers, and other stakeholders affected by the potential loss of these clubs. We want you to fully understand the impact this could have not only on the communities we represent, but also on the long-term support that Congress has always afforded our national pastime on a wide variety of legislative initiatives.

For over a century, Congress has taken numerous actions specifically designed to protect, preserve, and sustain a system and structure for both Major and Minor League Baseball to flourish.

That’s not an outright “We’re gonna hold hearings on rescinding your antitrust exemption if you go through with this,” and in any event even 100+ members of Congress isn’t anywhere near a majority. Still, MLB clearly got Congress’s attention with this, which makes the contraction gambit an even weirder strategy: Is it really worth risking the league’s nearly 100-year-old antitrust exemption just to save a few hundred thousand dollars per franchise in minor-league salaries? Maybe MLB figures it can negotiate a compromise (read: buy off representatives who are leading the charge by sparing their teams) or that Congress will have bigger fish to fry in 2020 and won’t bother with them — trying to understand the motivations of a roomful of rich dudes is always a tough call, especially when they often turn out to be thinking with the wrong parts of their anatomy.


6 comments on “Congress to MLB on minor-league contraction: You remember us, right, the ones with control over your antitrust exemption?

  1. I don’t get the anti trust exemption now. I haven’t seen anyone with an interest to compete with MLB. I’ve seen a dozen NFL knockoffs though.

    • You don’t think an industry whose average consumer is in their 60’s and aging doesn’t show enough future potential to have competition? Surely you jest!

  2. Well, since the NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA, PGA, USGA, ABC,NASCAR, INDYCAR, FIA, UFC, PBA, USTA, ATP and other dominant leagues and sanctioning bodies have flourished for decades without an antitrust exemption, the letter from disgruntled politicians isn’t exactly a sword of Damocles over the head of MLB.

    And then there’s this…….http://www.espn.com/nfl/columns/lawsuit/1518733.html

    • Don Garber isn’t going to be happy MLS didn’t make your top 15. Of course, MLS didn’t make my top 60. These all came before: -)

      LPGA, PWBA, WNBA, NWSL, WPSL, UWS, NTRA, NSA, USEF, USTA, USPA, NAIA, NCCAA, ACAA, PASL, MASL, WISL, SSUSA, MLL, NLL, PLL, AFL, XFL, USARL, WTT, WTA, NGA, AKA, AMA, APBA, USHPA, USPA, USAS, USABMX, USSA, USASA, USFA, USCA, WWF, WWE, PRCA, PIHA, WFTDA, MRDA (roller derby) and USAPA (Pro Pickleball)

  3. I think its time we review the specific anti trust exemptions enjoyed by the major sport leagues. I’m not an expert on these matters, but I believe MLB enjoys the broadest anti trust exemption of all major league sports. It’s long standing (1922?) and has been tested in the Supreme Court. I remember some sports writer mocking the Supreme Court’s written decision in the Curt Flood case as sounding like a flowery game description ala Roger Kahn.

    Anyway, I would guess that MLB’s exemption is a bit more important to them than other league’s exemptions. And why I am not surprised that an irresponsible organization like the Houston Astros are behind this idea. What a bunch!

    • Right, MLB is the only league with a blanket exemption. Other sports leagues have a limited exemption that allows them to jointly negotiate TV contracts.

      While ditching MLB’s exemption wouldn’t solve everything by any means, it would likely have a large impact on issues like this contraction plan — even aside from it just being a hammer that Congress can use to scare MLB with, since they don’t want it repealed. (Assuming Congress even knows what to do with a hammer if you handed one to them.)