Kicking “Single-Entity” to the Sidelines: Reevaluating the Competitive Reality of Major League Soccer after American Needle and the 2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement
Jakobsze, Matthew J.
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The negotiation of the 2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement brought tense times for professional soccer in the United States. The Major League Soccer Players’ Union sought free agency as a part of the 2010 CBA, a term that would have brought considerable relief from the restrictions imposed through Major League Soccer’s centralized contracting system. In a steadfast effort to retain control, minimize labor costs, and avoid antitrust liability, Major League Soccer refused to yield to the players’ demands. As a result, the parties reached impasse. Devoid of decertification as an option to expose the teams to antitrust scrutiny, the players threatened to start the 2010 season with a labor stoppage by striking. With only five days before the opening game of the 2010 season, and only tentatively optimistic views of the future of the League, both parties made concessions and another five-year labor agreement was reached. Despite the agreement, many of the League’s business practices leave considerable room to question whether teams continue to function with a “unity of interest” as required under Copperweld v. Independence Tube. Teams act independently in a slew of labor matters: hiring a Technical Director to oversee player personnel; signing designated players; signing free agents; making trades; and developing their own youth development teams. Each of these issues deserve reevaluation in light of the recent Supreme Court case, American Needle v. National Football League, wherein the Court determined that the NFL is not a single-entity for intellectual property purposes. Because the Court refused to confer a single-entity exemption on the NFL, the same legal principles should be applied to Major League Soccer, and leads to the conclude that teams are potential competitors that function as separate economic actors by pursuing separate economic interests—and thus should be subject to antitrust scrutiny.