Minnesota Law Review

If It’s in the Game, Is It in the Game?: Examining League-Wide Licensing Agreements After American Needle

After the Supreme Court’s decision in American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League in 2010, the National Football League’s (NFL) ability to license league intellectual property as a collective whole has been called into question. If the caselaw that emerges from American Needle completely precludes the League from being treated as a single entity, any licensing agreement of the NFL or other professional sports league risks being challenged as a concerted conspiracy in restraint of trade under Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Applying the Sherman Act to activities taken by the NFL in licensing its own intellectual property in the same way it has been applied to teams collectively licensing their individual intellectual property would create problems for the NFL’s agreement with Electronic Arts, for obtaining essential sponsorship money, for professional sports collective bargaining agreements more broadly, and for every other major professional sports league in protecting league interests against players and renegade owners.

While American Needle clearly states that the NFL cannot be uniformly treated as a single entity, the League acts very differently when it packages and sells team logos (like in American Needle) than it does when it licenses every aspect of the League together in order to create a virtual recreation of the League as a whole (like in its license with Electronic Arts). The distinction between the League bundling its teams’ intellectual property and the League licensing itself as a whole justifies another look at whether leagues like the NFL should be granted single-entity status in limited and specific instances.

This Note proposes a Court-imposed exemption to the general rule in American Needle that differentiates between licensing agreements that collectively license individual team intellectual property that has been bundled together and those agreements that license the intellectual property of the League as a whole. The rule in American Needle should continue to be applied in cases where directly competitive products are licensed together. Where the intellectual property being licensed represents the League as a holistic entity, however, this Note argues that such licensing agreements should be upheld against Sherman Act challenges under the Court’s single-entity precedent.


:: View PDF

News & Events

  • Fall Submissions Open – Headnotes

    The Minnesota Law Review: Headnotes fall submissions period is open. For more information, please visit our submissions page. Share this: on Twitter on Facebook on Google+

  • Vol. 97 Piece Quoted in Mother Jones Article

    A recent Mother Jones article predicting how the Roberts Court would resolve King v. Burwell draws on How Business Fares in the Supreme Court from Volume 97. You can read the article here. Share this: on Twitter on Facebook on Google+

  • Welcome to De Novo

    For nearly one hundred years, the Minnesota Law Review has been a leader amongst academic legal publications. When Professor Henry J. Fletcher launched the journal in 1917, his goal was simple. It was to “contribute a little something to the systematic growth of the whole law.” Since then, the Law [...]

  • Minnesota Law Review Alum Remembered 45 Years After Death

    Minnesota Law Review alumnus Tom Cranna was honored at the Annual Banquet this Spring, 45 years after his death. Mr. Cranna was remembered for his contributions to the journal, the school, and the positive impact he had on his family and friends. The Devil’s Lake Journal published a memorial which [...]

  • Follow MLR on Twitter!

    The Minnesota Law Review is proud to announce that we are now on Twitter. Follow us @MinnesotaLawRev for information and updates concerning the petition period and deadlines, the opening and closing of article submissions, our 2014 Symposium: Offenders in the Community, and all other news concerning our authors and publications. [...]


cforms contact form by delicious:days