A bill to remove baseball's immunity from antitrust laws and to restrict the use of anticompetitive "territorial right" practices by all major professional sports teams will be introduced in the House next week.
Rep. John F. Seiberling (D-Ohio) intended to introduce his bill yesterday, but an early adjournment because of the weather prompted him to postpone the introduction until Tuesday.
Besides ending baseball's exemption from antitrust laws, Seiberling's bill would make it illegal for a professional team in a large metropolitan area to unilaterally bar other teams in that sport from entering its area.
Seiberling's bill reflects his and others' disenchantment with rules that have helped leave Washington without a baseball franchise since 1971 and may leave Los Angeles without a National Football League team after next season.
Specifically, the bill states that one team cannot ban another in the same sport from locating within a 75-mile radius -- unless that geographical area has a population under 2 million.
The 75-mile figure was used because most major professional sports, except soccer and baseball, use that radius for determining "home territory" of an existing franchise. Soccer and baseball use a 100-mile radius.
There are exceptions made on "home territory," because of the proximity of major cities, the belief that one large metropolitan area can support more than one team, or because the "home" club waives its territorial rights.
The bill would not, however, make it illegal for an association of owners in a sport to block another club from the "home" team's territory under existing rules on transfers and expansions.
Seiberling said his bill's purpose is "to eliminate some of the unreasonable monopoly powers that pro sports team owners exercise.
"It is outrageous that the Baltimore Orioles claim 'exclusive territorial rights' which prohibit an American League team from moving into Washington.
"And it's outrageous that after moving to Anaheim, the (Los Angeles) Rams will have the 'right' to prevent any other NFL team from playing in the Los Angeles area. The cities of Washington and Los Angeles stand to lose millions of dollars in revenues and taxes because of unreasonable league bylaws and team agreements."
Baseball's antitrust immunity was established in a 1922 Supreme Court case and has been reaffirmed in two subsequent rulings. The high court has said that if the sport's unique status is to be changed, Congress will have to do it.
The Justice Department recommended that the immunity be eliminated following a series of hearings chaired by former Rep. B. F. Sisk (D-Calif.) in 1976. The Sisk committee's probe was to be pursued by the Judiciary Committee last session, but there were no hearings. Seiberling's bill probably will be referred to Judiciary's subcommittee on monopolies.
The NFL is subject to antitrust laws. But the NFL has claimed in various court cases that it has a limited antitrust exemption dating from the special immunity Congress gave it in 1966 during its merger with the American Football League. The NFL has claimed territorial rights are covered in that limited exemption.