This chapter examines the complex process of collective bargaining in professional sports leagues. Collective bargaining between actors and owners represents unique conflicts between labour law and antitrust law. Resolving these conflicts will have a significant impact on the future of collective bargaining between actors and owners. This chapter provides a brief overview of relevant principles of labor law, briefly traces the history of collective bargaining in professional sports, identifies and analyzes the conflict between labor law and antitrust law, examines recent disputes in NBA and NFL union negotiations, and looks forward to future negotiations between players and owners. Whenever sports unions enter into negotiations with owners, potential losses of time, money and resources are at stake. STU`s online MBA in Sports Administration provides graduates with the skills to find common ground between athletes and owners so that contractual disputes can be resolved quickly. Nelson J. relied on Mackey and also noted that “federal labour policy prevails over the opposing policy of antitrust laws only if, among other things, the agreement to be exempted concerns mandatory matters of collective bargaining” (1041). Given that a lockout is not subject to collective bargaining, but to a procedural bargaining tool (p. 221), Nelson J. concluded that the application of the non-statutory leave was inappropriate. Judge Nelson further concluded that the lost playing time was sufficient to represent irreparable damage, noting that the damage “is underscored by the undisputed brevity and uncertainty of players` careers in professional sports, particularly in the NFL” (1035) (internal citation omitted).
In November 1989, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that team owners were exempt from federal antitrust laws as long as players were adequately represented by a union.  In the same year, the NFLPA was decertified as a union, stating that its status as a union offered more protection to owners than to players.  The NFL continued to operate without a collective agreement until 1993.  Strikes… jeopardizes a disproportionate percentage of the career earning potential for players with short careers and, in many cases, few other career opportunities. The lack of other employment opportunities] of actors still limits their ability to resist a strike and, consequently, the influence of the union at the bargaining table. As there is no competing league, most players do not have a legitimate alternative employment opportunity and are therefore unlikely to survive management in a labour dispute. The founding case of a professional sports league in developing the non-legal work exemption was Mackey v. NFL, where the Eighth Circuit noted that the exemption immunizes the terms of a collective agreement against antitrust attacks.
In the Mackey case, NFL players challenged a rule in the collective bargaining agreement (known as the “Rozelle Rule”) that severely restricted free agency. The Eighth Circuit recognized that employers (e.B. Team owners) would have only a limited incentive to negotiate a collective agreement if the agreement itself could expose them to triple harm under antitrust law. The Eighth Circuit therefore concluded that the Rozelle Rule was safe from antitrust attacks. This case resulted in a three-factor analysis known as the “Mackey test” to help the courts determine whether the non-statutory exception should apply. Under the Mackey test, the terms of a collective agreement are exempt from antitrust law if three factors are met: (1) the terms of the contract were primarily relevant to the parties to the collective bargaining relationship; (2) the conditions were mandatory (p. 218) subject to collective bargaining; and (3) the agreement is the result of good faith negotiations on market conditions. In such cases, antitrust policy must give way to federal labour policy and the collective agreement is exempt from antitrust review. Section 1 of the Sherman Act condemns “[t]he contract … or conspiracy to restrict trade or commerce between different states. A threshold question in Article 1 cases is whether the impugned conduct constitutes a “contract, a combination”. or conspiracy” (15 U.S.C§ 12).
For the purposes of Article 1, a “contract” requires an “agreement” and an agreement requires more than one entity. For years, professional sports leagues have argued that they are individual entities unable to reach an agreement under Article 1. Although the courts, as mentioned earlier, have recognized that sports teams are particularly interdependent, they have consistently rejected the argument of single-entity leagues, concluding that a professional sports league is a combination of teams capable of reaching an agreement in violation of Article 1. In 2010, the Supreme Court finally ruled that NFL teams — despite their often overlapping interests — are not individual entities and therefore their agreements are subject to Section 1 review (American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League). MLB has always been protected from antitrust attacks under the baseball cartel`s anomalous exception, eliminating the conflict between labor and antitrust law for baseball owners and players. Congress repealed this exception in the Curt Flood Act of 1998 and gave baseball players the same access to antitrust law as other professional athletes (15 U.S.C.
§ 26b (2006)). The courts have recognized that these economic weapons contribute to voluntary agreements between management and unions (LeRoy, 2012). The role of the government is therefore to serve only as an “arbiter” in the economic struggle between the parties (LeRoy, 1996). As Professor Weistart explained, “labour policy accepts that the dominant principle should be freedom of contract: the parties can agree on the conditions they wish, and the courts do not inquire about the wisdom or relevance of the agreement reached” (Weistart, 1981, 131). Players who practice their profession in the Premier League Association Football must sign a contract with the Premier League club that uses their services. This is done in accordance with the conditions set out in the FA Premier League standard contract, which all players must sign. This is partly regulated by various collective agreements as well as the rules of the Football Association (FA) and the rules of the Premier League. Once a player has signed with a club, the club must register their contract with the FAPL and FA. Several collective agreements expire over the next few years, including those of the NFL (2021), MLB (2021), NHL (2022) and Women`s National Basketball Association (2022). Ongoing litigation, intellectual property disputes and league rules could shape future negotiations, the article says.
At the forefront of the league`s rules, the NBA`s current rules, which require NBA prospects to attend college for a year or have professional basketball experience before being declared NBA, could be on the block of hacking. Concussions remain a controversial issue following the NFL`s $1 billion settlement to cover medical care for NFL players who claim to have suffered brain injuries as a result of their work on the field. Collective bargaining is a bargaining process in which workers negotiate with their employer as a whole and not as individuals. This means that workers are often able to get better wages and working conditions. In the context of sport, owners and players/participants negotiate their terms and conditions that benefit the whole team. The benefits of collective bargaining in British football include: the approval of the use of the “offensive lockout” marked the next and most important step in the development and expansion of the lockout. In American Ship Building Co.c. NLRB, the Supreme Court ruled that employers can lock out workers to gain influence at the bargaining table. The Court held that “nothing in the law gives workers the right to insist on their contractual claims, protected from the type of economic disadvantage often associated with bargaining disputes” (313).
The Court concluded that the admission of offensive strikes, but not defensive lockouts, resulted in an unfair and unnecessary asymmetry in collective bargaining and concluded that “the employer`s use of a lockout solely to support a legitimate bargaining position is in no way incompatible with the right to collective bargaining or the right to strike” (310). The NFL and its players began negotiations after the players won the Freeman McNeil lawsuit against Plan B. On September 10, 1992, the jury found that Plan B was too restrictive under federal cartel laws. Subsequently, the owners of the team agreed to discuss free agency for all players.  The NFLPA filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Reggie White, demanding that all NFL players receive damages due to the illegality of Plan B. The settlement provided for the payment of nearly $200 million in damages and depended on the NFLPA being merged into a union and signing a new ABC that would include the terms of the lawsuit.   A seven-year ABC was signed in the spring of 1993, making it the first agreement of its kind since 1987.    The new ABC offered players unlimited agency after playing in the league for four years, subject to an exception for one franchise player per club after the first year of the new CBA. In return, the NFLPA agreed to a salary cap based on an agreed percentage of revenue.
 The agreement had a direct impact on players` salaries and increased salaries for the 1993 season by 38%.  A recent front office sports article described the importance of understanding collective bargaining for sports officials. .