Baltimore Sun

Manfred defends antitrust exemption

- By Ronald Blum

NEW YORK — Major League Baseball told a Senate committee planning a hearing on the sport’s antitrust exemption that it prevents teams from moving without approval and allows the sport to maintain the minor leagues at a wide level.

In addition, baseball Commission­er Rob Manfred said many terms of minor leaguers’ employment are determined by the Major League Baseball Players Associatio­n’s collective bargaining agreement with MLB.

Leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Manfred on July 18 to explain the impact of potential legislatio­n stripping the sport’s antitrust exemption from the sport’s relationsh­ip with minor league players. Manfred said the letter “suggests that Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption is detrimenta­l to minor league players and that removing the exemption would improve their working conditions.”

“The opposite is true,” Manfred wrote in a 17-page response. “The baseball antitrust exemption has meaningful­ly improved the lives of minor league players, including their terms and conditions of employment, and has enabled the operators of minor league affiliates to offer profession­al baseball in certain communitie­s that otherwise could not economical­ly support a profession­al baseball team.”

Manfred said the exemption was responsibl­e for MLB franchise location stability. Only one MLB team has changed cities since 1972, the Montreal Expos leaving Canada to become the Washington Nationals for the 2005 season.

“In that same period, 14 NBA, 10 NFL and nine NHL franchises have relocated,” he said. “MLB differs from other profession­al sports leagues because MLB’s antitrust exemption allows it to enforce a rigorous process that ensures club relocation is carefully considered and vetted.”

Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, and Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is the ranking minority member, asked for the responses along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticu­t, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Durbin said Friday the Judiciary Committee intends to hold a hearing.

“It is reasonable to question the premise that MLB is treating the minor leaguers fairly,” Durbin said in a statement. “Commission­er Manfred’s response to our bipartisan request for informatio­n raises more questions than it answers, and the discrepanc­ies between today’s letter and the reality that minor league players are experienci­ng reinforce the importance of the committee’s bipartisan review.”

Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers, planned to review Manfred’s letter.

“Given that MLB continues to pay most minor league players poverty-level wages and recently eliminated 40 minor league teams, the positions it has taken today are surprising — to say the very least,” Marino said in a statement.

Manfred said MLB supports 184 teams in 43 states, including minor league affiliates and partner leagues launched when guaranteed farm teams were cut from 160 to 120 after the 2019 season. The figure does not include teams at training complexes in Florida, Arizona and the Dominican Republic.

“Without the exemption, there would be baseball in far fewer communitie­s, and without MLB’s substantia­l subsidizat­ion, the cost of attending a minor league baseball game would be significan­tly higher in many places,” he wrote.

MLB said it spends an average of $108,000 annually on each minor leaguer in pay and benefits and 58% of drafted minor leaguers — approximat­ely 615 each year under the current format — receive an initial signing bonus of at least $100,000.

“Those players who do not command larger signing bonuses generally will have very short baseball careers and transition to other careers in their early 20s and are truly seasonal employees who are free to obtain other employment or continue their education during the offseason,” Manfred wrote. He said that while Advocates for Minor Leaguers claims pay and benefits would improve in a free market, “on the contrary, under such a system, the top prospects ... may do better. But the much larger number of non-prospect players likely would do worse.”

Baseball’s exemption was created by the Supreme Court in the 1922 decision Federal Baseball Club v. National League and was limited by the Curt Flood Act of 1998, which applied antitrust laws to MLB affecting the employment of major league players at the major league level.

In addition, the Sports Broadcasti­ng Act of 1961 gave leagues permission to collective­ly sell broadcast rights and the Supreme Court in the 1996 case Brown v. Pro Football said there is a non-statutory exemption from antitrust law for activity governed by a collective bargaining relationsh­ip.

“The revenues of most minor league clubs are insufficie­nt to support even the current salaries and benefits of players,” Manfred wrote. “If MLB clubs eliminated or curtailed their financial subsidy to minor league clubs and players were compensate­d at the minor league level by the club operators at a level commensura­te with minor League revenues, minor league player salaries and benefits would be lower, not higher.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States