Team merchandise competition

13 01 2010

If you’re a NFL fan, then the league’s current case against American Needle should be of some interest. The case has gone through a federal court in Chicago, a U.S. Appeals court and is currently being heard in the U.S. Supreme Court. What it boils down to is whether the NFL can be considered a collection of 32 businesses (since that’s the number of teams which exist in the league) or as a single entity, which in effect would give the league exemption from violating antitrust laws. (American Needle used to produce merchandise for the NFL in a non-exclusive arrangement until the NFL signed an exclusive deal with Reebok in 2001, which forms the basis for AN’s lawsuit against the NFL.)

I won’t try to bore you with all the gory lawyery details since I don’t understand half of them myself. One little factoid that I found interesting — and which my Montana State-educated brain was able to wrap its cerebrum around — was a comment from Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer posted in a Reuters article you can find here. He asked, hypothetically, whether NFL teams compete against each other to sell merchandise, using a pair of Major League Baseball teams for an analogy.

“I don’t know a Red Sox fan who would take a Yankees t-shirt if you gave it away,” Breyer noted.

While it’s a fairly accurate statement, it does nothing to prove whether or not teams compete against each other to sell their hats, shirts, jerseys and other apparel. The short answer is that they absolutely do.

Not every fan of the NFL — or any other sport — is a die-hard. Plenty of casual fans exist and they might switch their favorite teams on a whim. Maybe someone who grew up in Chicago but lives in Houston decides to show more love to the Texans than the Bears based on cheering for the team in her current locale.

Perhaps a fan who’s just been introduced to the sport is seeking a favorite team. Rather than support the Broncos, whose heinous blue and orange motif does nothing for fashion sensibility, the fan opts for the Chargers since he can match more of the Chargers’ navy blue, baby blue and yellow colors to his existing wardrobe.

Then you have the really fashion conscious crowd who don’t even like the NFL but want to sport a Chris Johnson jersey or a Cardinals hat because that’s the hot look from the NFL right now.

So in those theories, NFL teams surely compete against each other. Their colors, logos and jersey designs all help determine their appeal to casual fans. Which in this case would go toward proving that the NFL is a collection of businesses rather than a single entity. (Any lawyer who reads this should definitely correct me if I screwed up anything.)

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