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Sports and the Law of Antitrust: Introduction



At the intersection of sports and federal antitrust law is one thing: competition.  Sports is concerned with promoting competition between teams or individuals on the field or court.  Today, sports is big business.  Antitrust is concerned with promoting competition between businesses in the commercial arena.  Antitrust is known as the law of competition.  Over the years, there has been immense tension between the business of sports and the law of antitrust.  This is because, to create a level playing field, sports leagues must restrain their teams' ability to compete for players, capital, etc.  A certain amount of restraint is necessary for the leagues to exist in the first place.  However, beyond that, the business of sports is generally not exempt from the laws of antitrust.  This research guide is designed to help an attorney new to the law of competition to navigate its applicability to the world of sports.


This guide provides resources for three of the major sports leagues in the United States: Major League Baseball ("MLB"), the National Football League ("NFL"), and the National Collegiate Athletics Association ("NCAA").  This guide is narrowly focused on federal antitrust applicability to sports.  However, it is not a comprehensive guide to how courts have applied antitrust to each and every domestic sports league.  This is because although there are distinct differences between the various sports leagues, courts have tended to apply the law in a fairly uniform manner.  The three leagues represented in this guide, however, provide a sufficient overview of the various ways which the courts' application of the law does differ.   

This guide includes primary sources, secondary sources, and other tools for researching the applicability of federal antitrust law to the business of sports.  It will focus mainly on research dealing with the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 ("Sherman Act") and the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 ("Clayton Act"): the bread-and-butter of federal antitrust law.  For researchers interested in state antitrust law applicability to sports, there are state-specific primary and secondary resources available for guidance.  This guide does not, for the most part, deal with litigation strategies that can be employed when handling an antitrust case.  However, some of the information may be useful when evaluating the underlying merits of an antitrust case related to sports.

The Current Awareness tab contains blog and other internet sources that can be used to stay up-to-date on sports-related antitrust news.  Also, the Research Problems tab contains sample research problems that may provide a bit of practice in locating helpful resources.

Start with Secondary Sources

When potential antitrust issues are on the horizon, it would be unwise to start with the Sherman and Clayton Acts.  These sets of statutes are simply written and broadly applicable.  It would also be unwise to start with the judge-made law of antitrust.  This is because judge's often evaluate various antitrust issues by pigeon-holing certain behaviors and labeling them as either lawful or unlawful under the antitrust statutes.  These enumerated behaviors, however, are often spread about throughout years of case law.  The best place to start is with secondary sources such as treatises, law review articles, and so on.

Among secondary sources, there is one treatise that is an absolute must.  That source is Hovenkamp's Antitrust Law - it is the Holy Grail of Antitrust law - and it is prominently displayed under the Common Secondary Sources tab, along with treatises, blogs, and other sources that help to illuminate the substance of federal antitrust law.  Also under the Common Secondary Sources tab are collections within larger works that deal specifically with antitrust applicability to sports.  However, for secondary sources that deal with specific sports leagues, see the Secondary Sources pages under the NFL/MLB/NCAA tabs.

End with Primary Sources

Antitrust law was founded in the language of the Sherman and Clayton Acts, but as-applied the law is judge-made.  While determining which statutes are most applicable is important, finding the most applicable case law is essential when evaluating antitrust issues.

Cases may be accessed through any legal database.  Some of these databases require paid access and others are free. Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, and LexisNexis are fantastic paid-access databases that provide access to a veritable plethora of antitrust cases.  Fastcase and Google Scholar are great free-access databases that also provide access to a number of the most important antitrust cases.  Finding the most applicable precedent is the key to evaluating any antitrust issue.  This guide includes links to aid in searching the general and sports-related antitrust cases on the Primary Sources page under each league-specific tab.

Because antitrust is so heavily based in case law, the Primary Sources pages under each league-specific tab will provide links to the cases of high importance.  Those links will provide access to free sources of case law when possible.  However, for the sake of efficiency, it may be pertinent to consult a secondary source first in order to pin down the appropriate source when browsing paid-access databases. 

The Ever-Changing World of Antitrust; The Ever-Changing World of Sports

Antitrust and sports are both perpetually evolving.  Staying up-to-date on antitrust issues surrounding the sports industry is important; this information can aid in determining how a team or league should tailor their business or sports-related practices to conform to the law of competition.  This guide includes some links to current awareness sources.  These sources include various internet sources, such as blogs and other websites, as well as other media that may be useful in staying up on current events.


Antitrust law is a huge issue in the world of sports.  Since competition is at the heart of both the federal antitrust law and sports, it is important that there be a tenable balance between the two.  On the one hand, competition is necessary for businesses to thrive in a market economy.  On the other hand, some restraint is necessary for the sports leagues to exists at all.  The substantive antitrust law that deals with the commercial aspect of sports leagues is far from being definitively settled.  Thus, it is important to know how courts go about analyzing the various business practices engaged in by sports leagues.  This guide strides to provide new antitrust practitioners with some resources to substantively evaluate any sports-business practice under federal antitrust jurisprudence.


Student Guide Author

Keith Starr is a 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Law.  During law school, Keith served as an Associate Managing Editor of the Missouri Law Review. 

This guide was originally created in support of Professor Diamond's Advanced Legal Research class for Spring 2014. The contents of this guide should not be taken as legal advice or as the work product of MU Law librarians.

The Law of Competition