A federal court jury's verdict Friday that the National Football League violated antitrust laws by trying to block the Oakland Raiders' move to Los Angeles has not resulted in immediate congressional support for an antitrust exemption for the league.
For several months the NFL has lobbied hard for legislation that would exempt the league from antitrust liability, and those efforts are expected to be redoubled in the wake of the verdict in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, which clears the way for Raiders managing partner Al Davis to move his team to Los Angeles, pending appeals.
"They keep coming around with drafts of a bill, but I think they're having trouble getting anyone to introduce it," said an aide to Rep. John F. Seiberling (D-Ohio), the sponsor of legislation that would restrict the rights of professional sports leagues to veto owners' plans to relocate their teams.
The measure also would lift baseball's antitrust exemption that resulted from a 1922 Supreme Court decision.
An aide to Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) said the senator would be willing to cosponsor and support an antitrust exemption for the NFL but not to introduce the legislation.
A staff member in the office of Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), considered a leading supporter of an antitrust exemption for the NFL, said the issue has been on the back burner for the last several weeks.
An aide to Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), regarded as another potential sponsor, said it's unlikely DeConcini will take any action in the immediate future. "He'll want to talk to both sides, but he probably won't introduce anything," the aide said.
Friday's decision, by a six-member jury, came after 5 1/2 hours of deliberation and 21 days of testimony in a lawsuit filed in 1978 by the Los Angeles Coliseum Board and joined by the Raiders in 1979.
Specifically, the jury found that Section 4.3 of the NFL constitution, requiring three-quarters of the NFL owners to approve a transfer of a franchise to another city, was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act by unreasonably blocking competitive movement of teams. The jury also found the league had failed to deal with the Raiders in good faith.
U.S. District Judge Harry Pregerson set Sept. 20 to begin the damages phase of the trial. The Raiders are seeking $160 million and the Coliseum Board $53 million. In antitrust cases, damage awards are automatically trebled.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle said Friday the league would appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Patrick Lynch, an attorney for the NFL, said the initial appeal would be filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Joe Browne, an NFL spokesman, said yesterday the appeal will be based in part on the argument that the league could not get a fair trial in Los Angeles, where public opinion would tend to favor a movement of the Raiders to the Los Angeles Coliseum. "We should get the trial out of the back yard of the Los Angeles Coliseum," he said. The Los Angeles Rams moved from the Coliseum to Anaheim, 35 miles away, in 1980.
Yesterday Rozelle and NFL lawyers were meeting in Los Angeles to plan strategy for dealing with a request by the Raiders and the Coliseum for an injunction that would force the league to schedule games for the Raiders in Los Angeles.
However, the Raiders said they have not yet decided whether to move to Los Angeles immediately. Al LoCasale, executive assistant to Davis, said he wants the move to "minimize disturbance to the team." The Raiders might want to wait until all appeals in the case have been exhausted, LoCasale said, a process which might take 1 1/2 years.
However former San Francisco mayor Joseph Alioto, the lawyer for the Raiders, said there is no reason to await the outcome of an appeal.
"An appeal is a sham," Alioto said. "The Raiders and the Coliseum Board can begin negotiations right now."
Meanwhile, in Oakland, the decision came as a blow to civic pride and the city's economy.
"I'll tell you what the Raiders mean to Oakland," Chamber of Commerce spokesman Scott Summerfield told The Associated Press. "We figure it means $36 million a year in direct revenue and $180 million in indirect revenue, and that includes money that's spent in bars, hotels, restaurants, advertising, loss of revenue to the airport, parking--everything."
In Oakland's Kings X bar, one customer complained that "it's hard to stand in the shadow of San Francisco and talk about Oakland, and I think the Raiders were one of the things that gave us pride."
Andy Mousalimas, co-owner of Kings X, agreed with NFL contentions that it was unfair to hold the trial in Los Angeles. "If the trial had been held in Oakland, it would have gone the other way, and that wouldn't have been fair, either," The Associated Press quoted him as saying.
If the NFL does get an antitrust exemption introduced on Capitol Hill, the measure will face considerable opposition. The NFL Players Association has lobbied heavily against any such measure, contending that an exemption from antitrust laws would make it impossible for players to sue the league over issues such as the draft, reserve rules and option clauses.
The measure would also have to survive in a climate in which some legislators are taking an increasingly close, and in some cases critical, look at the relationship between professional sports and antitrust laws.
The House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on monopolies and commercial law has held several hearings on Seiberling's bill to ease relocation of professional sports franchises and lift baseball's antitrust exemption, and several members have been critical of arguments that sports need such an exemption to survive.
The relocation section in Seiberling's bill would prohibit a league from blocking relocation of any professional sports team to an area where there is a population of at least 2 million within a 75-mile radius. Were the measure in effect, it would permit relocation of the Raiders to Los Angeles.
Rozelle has argued repeatedly that the NFL owners are partners, not competitors, and that for antitrust purposes they should be treated as one organization, such as General Motors or McDonald's. That contention, as related to the Raiders' case, was rejected by Pregerson during the trial.