Antitrust exemption limits NFL’s window for Saturday games

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Before the NFL opted to return to late-season Saturdays, many wanted to know why the NFL had abandoned those days.  Now that the NFL will return in 2014 to Saturday with a late-season double-header on December 20, some are asking why the NFL doesn’t play on Saturdays more often.

The answer comes from the league’s antitrust exemption.  Crafted by Congress in 1961 after a court decision determined that the practice of selling TV rights for the entire league violates antitrust laws, the Sports Broadcasting Act has a key caveat for the NFL — no games can be televised on Friday nights or Saturdays from the second Friday in September until the second Saturday in December.

By steering clear of those Friday nights and Saturdays (in deference to high school and college football), the various NFL teams can bundle their TV rights, compelling a network that wants to televise the popular teams to also televise the unpopular teams.  Without the ability to circumvent the antitrust laws, which otherwise would prohibit different businesses from coming together this way, the Cowboys (for example) would be cutting their own billion-dollar TV deal — and the teams without strong national followings in smaller markets would be relegated to the scraps.

The cost of parity, then, is to avoid Fridays and Saturdays from early September to early December.  It’s a small price to pay for a league in which every team has plausible hope in any given year to make it to the playoffs, and to win the Super Bowl.

12 responses to “Antitrust exemption limits NFL’s window for Saturday games

  1. I knew the purpose but it’s nice to see the rationale behind it.

    How about this – schedule more Sunday night double headers and use one of those games for more flexed (read: better) games?

  2. “It’s a small price to pay for a league in which every team has plausible hope in any given year to make it to the playoffs, and to win the Super Bowl.”


    I can list several teams that have no hope at all of making the playoffs this year.

  3. Since the NFL is unable to broadcast live games on either Friday or Saturday, what would be wrong if the NFL Network went into its vault and brought out original telecast of Super Bowls of yesteryear? I’m not talking about those 90-minute “Greatest Game” highlights. I’m talking about complete games, from start to finish, as they appeared at the time they were played.
    I’m little tired of hearing “experts” suggest that Terry Bradshaw was carried to four Super Bowl titles by his defenses. Show the original broadcasts so those too young or too old to remember can decide for themselves.

  4. so they avoided anti-trust laws not because they don’t meet the criteria to be guilty of violating anti-trust laws, but because they agreed not to infringe on other heavily lobbied businesses territory???

    seems fair….. NOT

    at a time of record federal budget deficits where this “tax-exempt” league takes in 9 billion in revenue per year its about time for the feds to take a piece of that pie

    im sorry but no tax exempt companies should be able to pay their employees in excess of 20million per year

  5. Yeah, I remember Mike Francesa mentioning this on air a few years back. I remembered there had been Saturday games years and years ago, but didn’t know there were antitrust implications. I thought it was simply the NFL wanting to avoid cutting in on high school and college action, given that parents have children playing in high school, especially. The NFL has become so greedy in their pursuit of $20 Billion annual profits that they are proliferating the airwaves with the product. Leave well enough alone.

  6. What people do not realize is that the NFL itself is non-profit. ALL profits are divided among the teams, who pay taxes on ALL their income. Taxing the NFL would simply reduce the amount the teams pay. It would be a net gain of zero for the IRS to tax the NFL.

  7. Is the NFL is doing the smart thing or circomventing laws? I don’t know the answer. But if I were forced to choose between the Iron Bowl or yet another damn Cowboys national TV game, I do know the answer to that. I’ll give you a hint: WAR EAGLE!

  8. This doesn’t quite jibe with my memory. Yes, there was an agreement (law) to not televise on Fridays and not on Saturdays until the second Sat. in Dec. However, there have been many Saturdays that qualified for TV that were just not done. The elimination of Saturdays by the NFL did not start with passage of the law, in my opinion, but later on, until now. Please note the NFL has scheduled one double header this year, but there are three Saturdays that qualify. Methinks the NFL did not want to compete with the 423 college bowl games any more than they had to. A political ploy, not necessarily thoughtfulness.

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