Talk of a soccer Super League has emerged and intensified in recent days. On Monday, we drafted a potential eight-team NFL Super League.
Also on Monday, the question emerged during a visit with The Rich Eisen Show as to whether the NFL ever could have a Super League of its own. Given that there’s only one league and not various organizations spread over various countries makes the situation inherently dissimilar. However, there’s only way that, in time, the NFL could break into multiple leagues.
The key becomes the broadcast antitrust exemption. For decades, it has allowed the NFL to sell its TV rights collectively, with any network that wants the most desirable teams also potentially getting the least desirable teams. That in turn makes it easier for the 32 teams to share TV revenue, preventing a have’s and have-a-lot-more’s scenario.
If the antitrust exemption for TV rights ever disappears (some members of Congress currently are discussing taking it away from baseball due to the George All-Star Game controversy), all bets would be off. The Cowboys would sell the rights to their home games to the highest bidder, as would other teams with national followings. At the other end of the spectrum would be the teams that don’t draw the same kind of rating. (They know who they are.)
Would owners continue to share the revenue generated by individual TV deals? If not, would the current model of a salary cap driven by total league revenue survive? For the low-earning teams, a cap driven by the much higher revenues earned by the most popular teams in the league would chew into the profit margin.
It potentially wouldn’t be sustainable. It possibly would require the league to split in two, with the most popular and profitable teams in one league and everyone else in the other.
That’s a long way off, and it depends on many things happening. The league losing its broadcast antitrust exemption may not be required, however. As streaming continues to rise, there’s a strong argument to be made that the broadcast antitrust exemption are drafted in the early 1960s doesn’t apply to streaming.
To resolve that point, a company that wants to, for example, buy the Dallas Cowboys’ streaming rights would have to file a lawsuit, alleging that the NFL consists of 32 individual businesses and that the act of selling the streaming rights collectively amounts to an antitrust violation. As streaming becomes larger and more profitable, and as the space becomes more competitive, the possibility of that happening will increase.
While nothing like that would happen any time soon, it’s worth at least acknowledging the possibility that, as the NFL makes more and more money and with more and more money to be made, the stakes will become too high and the dollars will become too great for this issue not to move to the front burner and approach full boil.