San Jose Looking to Play Ball with MLB in Federal Court

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On Tuesday, June 18, 2013, the City of San Jose filed an antitrust suit against Major League Baseball (MLB) and its commissioner Bud Selig in federal court.  The dispute revolves around the Oakland Athletics (A’s) hopes to relocate.  Although the A’s have considered a move for a while, the league must approve one first.

The A’s stadium is the fourth oldest in the league, and it shows.  A sewage leak on Sunday June, 16 created problems in the clubhouse forcing the A’s to share a locker-room with the visiting Seattle Mariners.

San Jose has had enough.  A committee was appointed to look into a move by the team over four years ago.  Earlier this year, San Jose’s mayor proposed a sit down with Selig, but he refused.  The city’s attorney said an approval is taking too long.  The city alleges that it has suffered millions of dollars in damages because of the delay.

Other MLB team’s territorial rights are the problem for San Jose.  Three-quarters of the teams must vote to approve the move before a team can move into another’s territory.  The San Francisco Giants, who currently have the rights to San Jose, objected to the potential move.  Ironically, it was the A’s that gave the Giants the rights to San Francisco back in 1992.  The Giants were on the edge of being relocated to TampaBay, but the A’s gave up rights to San Jose to allow them to stay.  However, the A’s attorney forgot to add a “sunset provision.”  Without the provision, the transfer has no end date and the territorial rights remain with the Giants.

The suit challenges the MLB’s exemption from antitrust laws, an exemption granted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922.  The court ruled that baseball is not interstate commerce.  Now, the city disputes that ruling by pointing to nationwide broadcasting and apparel sales.  The city claims the exemption has been used as a “guise” to control the locations of the team.  According to the suit, the league’s control is unlawfully limiting competition.

Wolff, the A’s owner, is not part of the suit but said the problem is a “business issue” and is not in favor of legal action to settle it.  An MLB executive vice president said the suit is “an unfounded attack on the fundamental structures of a professional sports league.”

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