For only the second time since Al Davis moved his National Football League Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, a bill was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday that would grant the NFL antitrust exemptions in franchise relocation and revenue sharing.
However, there are indications that the bill, sponsored by Missouri's senators -- Republican John Danforth and Democrat Thomas Eagleton -- might face a protracted struggle to reach the Senate floor. The measure also may be taken up by the Judiciary Committee before moving to the Senate floor.
Of special interest to Danforth and Eagleton are the reports that the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals are considering offers to relocate.
Danforth's press secretary, Steve Hilton, said that, if passed, this bill would apply to transfers after Jan. 23, 1985. "It is drafted retroactive to that date," Hilton said.
The NFL-supported proposal, one of five franchise bills being considered by Congress, passed by a 10-6 vote in the Commerce Committee yesterday. Legislation sponsored by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) was the first franchise relocation bill to pass a Senate committee, but did not do so until late last year, when it was too late in the congressional session for it to reach the floor.
Danforth, who chairs the Commerce Committee, said this bill "reestablishes order out of what has become chaos." The bill would apply to the NFL, the U.S. Football League, pro basketball, hockey and soccer, but would not include major league baseball.
Under the Eagleton-Danforth bill, a sports team would give public notice of intention to relocate at least six months before the start of a season. The league then would have to rule on the relocation within two months, basing its decision on factors spelled out in the bill.
A particularly controversial aspect of the proposal is that it would grant the league the power to select or terminate ownership by a three-fourths vote. Critics of the bill say it serves the interests of the league and not the fans.
"What started out to protect the community has become a National Football League relief bill," said Gorton, whose own sports relocation bill did not come to a vote in the committee yesterday and faces an uncertain future.
The Commerce Committee rejected three proposed amendments to the bill yesterday.
Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) had offered amendments to bar the NFL from holding contracts with all three television networks, unless one of the networks also televised the games of a competing league, such as the USFL. Gore also proposed an amendment that would force the NFL to expand by six teams by 1990. In addition, Gortonhad proposed an amendment that would have prohibited the NFL from leaving free television in favor of pay television.
Later yesterday, Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) said, "If the Senate considers any legislation in this area, it should be legislation to repeal exisiting antitrust exemptions and let free competition reign in professional sports. However, if that is not to be, I am confident that this year, like 1982, when the NFL also sought a special interest antitrust exemption, we will be successful in defeating this legislation through promises of extended debate."