The Reagan administration's chief antitrust official told a congressional committee yesterday he plans to investigate a meeting planned for today between executives of the nation's major professional sports leagues.
Responding to a question during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, Assistant Attorney General William Baxter said that if participants in the meeting discuss matters beyond labor negotiations, the Justice Department could have serious concerns.
"I find it starling, vaguely troublesome and I assure you we will take a careful look at the circumatances," Baxter said, noting that he had noticed mention of the meeting in Tuesday's editions of The Washington Post.
Baxter told the Judiciary subcommittee on monopolies and commercial law that professional sports present a unique situation for antitrust enforcement, since the structure of the professional leagues is designed to attempt to insure balanced competition, rather than dominance of a sport by a particular team. Therefore, antitrust officials, charged with maintaining competition within a business, have to consider different criteria when evaluating the competitiveness of the industry, Baxter said.
The meeting planned for today in New York City is intended to provide an opportunity for representatives of professional baseball, football, basketball, hockey and soccer leagues to discuss ways to cope with the demands of unions, players and agents.
The newspaper article also prompted article also prompted the attention of Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) who asked Baxter about the meeting. "It seems to me that they can meet, per se," Edwards said on an interview yesterday. "That doesn't make it suspect just because they're having a meeting to talk about general problems of negotiations.
"But they couldn't, of course, say that they would never sell tickets for less than $20 or that they would not bid more than $250,000 for Jones or that they would not let a local radio station or even ABC get the broadcast rights to a game for less than so much," he said.
Ed Garvey, director of the National Football League Players Association, noted that a recent meeting between NFL owners at Harvard University raised antitrust questions.
"A group of promoters who call themselves owners now are meeting to work out a common strategy with respect to antitrust and labor laws," he said. Garvey said such a get-together "should get the attention" of the Justice Department.