The Erin Andrews/Peepholegate saga has captivated sports fans, with a number of high-profile blogs and media outlets devoting their time, energy and resources to the sordid tale in near hanging chad-like proportions (see here, here and here).
As a result, it should come as no surprise that many sports media outlets have completely missed the industry's most important story of the past two decades.
It’s easy to see why. This story lacks boobs and features nary a whiff of hotel espionage.
However, it does have lawyers—plenty of them—which may explain why most editors have shunned the story in favor of a grainy hotel video.
Hell, even ESPN has buried the story despite the fact their own legal analyst has written, so far, the best synopsis of the issue.
So what’s this big story that could permanently alter the landscape of professional sports?
It's American Needle vs. the NFL.
Never heard of it, you say? It’s a court case between a small merchandise company in Chicago and the country’s largest professional sports league, and it’s about to go before the U.S. Supreme Court.
As for the case's significance, we turn to Lester Munson’s exhaustive analysis on ESPN.com:
"Experts agree that the case known as American Needle vs. NFL could easily be the most significant legal turning point in the history of American sports.
If the high court rules in favor of the NFL, the development will be more important to the sports industry than Curt Flood’s battle against the reserve clause in the 1970s, than baseball’s collusion cases in the mid-’80s, than the NFL players union’s epic fight for free agency in a series of antitrust cases that stretched over a decade, and even than the enactment of the Sports Broadcasting Act in 1961, which is the legislation that is the foundation of the NFL’s television riches.”
In short, a legal victory for the NFL could lead to a rash of work stoppages in all the major professional leagues, and, in the long run, it could ruin the viability of player unions.
Are thinking that Munson overstated the gravity of the case?
Consider this revelation. According to Munson, in order to form a legal strategy, leaders from all four of the major player unions (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL) have been meeting weekly. It’s not extremely unusual to see the four entities to work together on an issue, but it certainly speaks to the level of collective concern among labor leaders.
At the core of the issue is whether the NFL can legally consider itself a “single entity." The league’s attorneys will try to convince the Supreme Court that the NFL operates as one single unit competing against other entertainment avenues rather than 32 individual teams competing against one another.
If they’re successful, the justices will essentially grant the NFL complete immunity from antitrust scrutiny. From there, the immunity would undoubtedly filter through the country’s other major professional leagues as well.
A decision on the case could come as early as spring 2010.
If the NFL wins, what are the ramnifications? (For the record, many legal analysts are predicting the court will find in the league’s favor.)
Salaries for players and coaches would drop significantly in all likelihood, but Munson warns fans not to expect a similar drop in ticket prices. After all, the NFL is not bringing this case to the high court for our sake; they’re doing it for themselves. It’s about maximizing profits, pure and simple.
But that's enough gloom and doom. The NFL will still be on television every Sunday, and that’s all that matters, right?
Oy vey, it’s enough to give us a headache. Can’t we just talk about Erin Andrews’ hotel hooters again?
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