You can’t really get into the news here without a little background on antitrust law in the United States, and Major League Baseball’s special standing in relation to those laws.
Antitrust law is basically all about preventing artificial and/or unfair restraints on competition. Businesses, for example, can’t get together and collude to artificially restrict the supply of Product X so that they can jack up the price in Market Y, and they cannot create monopolies that exclude others from competing. If you’re wondering, then, how it is that MLB artificially restricts and/or monopolizes all kinds of things without any issue, it’s because the entity and its teams are exempt from U.S. antitrust law.
Major League Baseball’s exemption from antitrust law is, concededly bizarre. It was the product of the sport getting to a certain level of business success at a very specific time in American history, overlapping with a belief that it was more than a business. Treating MLB like any other business simply didn’t make sense to those in charge in the 1920s, and then the Supreme Court left that exemption in place in the infamous Flood v. Kuhn decision., admitting in the process that MLB did engage in interstate commerce, should be subject to antitrust laws … but wouldn’t be because it’s just kinda special. (Seriously! The U.S. Supreme Court did that! It was strange!)
Is that enough background? If you want more, you can read that link there on the Flood v. Kuhn decision, and it’ll get you more. From where I sit, what you mostly need to know is that MLB and its teams benefit greatly from being exempt from antitrust law, a situation that is extremely pro-business/pro-big-owner/etc. Striking down MLB’s antitrust exemption has long been the angle of extremely progressive politicians, and those who wanted to see – for example – minor leaguers get better protections and pay.
In response to MLB’s decision to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia, which itself followed passage of Georgia’s new voting restrictions law, a group of Republican politicians has introduced legislation to strip Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption:
INBOX: Here's the GOP bill to strip the MLB of anti-trust protections.
In addition to Lee, Hawley, Cruz, Rubio and Blackburn in the Senate, it's cosponsored by 29 House Republicans including Marjorie Taylor Greene & Lauren Boebert. pic.twitter.com/AZ7gL2SB0O
— Andrew Solender (@AndrewSolender) April 14, 2021
I’ll leave it to other pundits to point out what that group of politicians have in common, and why they might be inclined to introduce legislation that would seemingly go against the things traditionally associated with their party. Instead, I’ll comment only on the potential baseball impact. Being that this effort has support on the right (how broad remains to be seen), it’s conceivable that it could actually pick up some traction. The question is whether the left will get on board because of their principles in support of antitrust law … or if they’ll oppose it because the subject is a political football being pushed in response to the voting rights law. I can’t predict, because that kinda thing is WAY outside my scope of expertise.
If the effort does get traction, however, and baseball actually loses its antitrust exemption, you could see a number of challenges pop up. Again, in particular, you’d see minor leaguers have a much better argument for better wages and protections under federal law. You could also see aspects of licensing and media and apparel come under increased scrutiny (and with more competition possibly entering the market). It wouldn’t necessarily blow up the entire sport – other major sports leagues operate without antitrust protection, and they do just fine – but I’m quite certain it’s something MLB’s owners prefer to keep in place. Who wants more laws applied to them, amirite?
That is all to say, this definitely matters. It might be – to the rest of the world – just political theater. A demonstration by certain politicians that they don’t care for MLB’s All-Star Game decision. But given the unpredictable overlap of support, this could wind up with real teeth. Again, I couldn’t predict.