The history of collective bargaining in professional sport is littered with long labour disputes. In many ways, collective bargaining in professional sport is a reflection of collective bargaining in traditional non-sporting sectors – management and labour use their economic weapons, including strikes and lockouts, to win at the bargaining table. However, professional sports leagues and player associations have unique attributes that involve complex challenges and legal issues in the context of collective bargaining. Like virtually every aspect of sport in our modern culture, labour disputes and possible work stoppages in professional sports leagues take place in the heat of public spotlights. However, the real singularity and complexity of sports negotiations are based on the conflict between labour law and antitrust rules, which is at the heart of many collective bargaining between players and owners. Recently, this fight took place in the labor negotiations of the National Football League (NFL), which resulted in negotiations between Brady against the National Football League and the National Basketball Association (NBA), which led to Anthony v. NBA. Most of the questions raised in these cases regarding the conflict between labour law and the rules on cartels and abuse of dominance remain unanswered. However, it is largely inevitable that this conflict will resume and that the resolution of these issues can help shape the future of collective bargaining in professional sport. This chapter will provide a brief context of the fundamental principles of labour law and the unique aspects of professional sports leagues and their athletes, will provide a summary of the history of collective bargaining in the “Big Four” U.S. sports leagues (the National Football League (p. 210), the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball.
, and analyzes recent labour disputes and changes in the law in this area. The chapter concludes with a look at the possible future of labour negotiations between players and owners in professional sports leagues. Quoting Mackey, Nelson J.A. also stated that “federal labour policy only exceeds the contrary policy of antitrust laws if the agreement were to, among other things, deal with mandatory collective bargaining issues” (1041). Given that a lockout is not an object of collective bargaining, but an instrument of procedure (p. 221), Nelson J. found that the application of the non-legal work exemption was inappropriate. Nelson J.A. also found that the lost playing time was sufficient to warrant irreparable harm and found that the injury was highlighted “by the undisputed brevity and uncertainty of players` careers in professional sport, particularly in the NFL” (1035) (internal citation omitted).
Collective agreements between actors and owners, which include agreements between the owners themselves, therefore constitute a unique conflict between federal cartel law and labour law. The next section of this chapter embodies and sheds light on these conflicts. The NFL and its players began negotiating after the players won the Freeman McNeil lawsuit against Plan B. The jury ruled on September 10, 1992, that Plan B was too restrictive under state antitrust law.