Commissioner Pete Rozelle of the National Football League asked Congress yesterday to enact legislation recognizing the NFL as a single business enterprise similar to Ford Motor Co. or a national chain store.
"A sports league is a common enterprise for economic purposes," Rozelle told the House subcommittee on monopolies and commercial law. "Since 95 percent of all our revenues are shared, we don't feel that we are in economic competition.
"On the playing field, the teams are clearly competitors. But in producing and marketing the NFL product, the clubs are co-producers and cosellers, not competitors. They are partners acting together in a common enterprise."
Rozelle's testimony came as the subcommittee reopened hearings on antitrust laws and policies as they affect professional sports.
"In my judgment," Rozelle said, "the antitrust laws, as now applied to sports leagues, do more to frustrate the very consumer and public interests that they were designed to promote than to serve them.
"Every league action, every league business judgment and every league decision can be characterized as an 'antitrust issue' issue, so that every league activity can be second-guessed in antitrust, often on conflicting grounds, by outside parties, league members themselves and courts."
In the last 15 years, Rozelle said, the NFL has been the target of 50 antitrust suits, and courts in various jurisdictions have held contradictorily that "the NFL clubs are no different from ordinary business competitors" and that "the NFL is a unique type of business, not like ordinary businesses and its clubs must not compete too well with each other in a business way."
In asking that the NFL be treated as a single business enterprise, Rozelle said it is unnecessary for any new legislation to apply to labor-management issues. Those are currently covered by collective bargaining agreements between the league and the NFL Players Association, and individual contracts are negotiated between each player and the separate clubs.
Contacted later, Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFLPA, said Rozelle's proposal that the NFL be declared a single business entity, "would essentially strip cities and the public of any protection of the antitrust laws from this monopoly. He should get into the hall of fame for chutzpah.
"If they were to get legislation declaring that they are a single business entity they would argue that everything they do is the act of a single business and could never be challenged. If a city tried to challenge them for moving a team, they would say it was like a city trying to attack Mobil Oil for moving one of its filling stations out of Poughkeepsie to Pittsburgh. They would just say it was an internal decision."
Questioned by committee members on the possibility of franchise transfers, Rozelle said that league regulations requiring three-quarters of the NFL owners to approve any transfer would mitigate against such transfers. But that would change, he said, if a lawsuit by the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Oakland Raiders against the NFL is successful.