NFL Antitrust Exemption Draws Interest On Hill

Sports Broadcasting Act could come under scrutiny in Congress

The Sports Broadcasting Act, the 1961 antitrust exemption that allowed the NFL to continue to negotiate collectively for TV rights, could come under scrutiny in this Congress, though such a review is not yet teed up.

That was the view from the Hill, or at least from staffers of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, at a Thursday policy session at the NCTA convention in Washington.

Ivy Johnson, minority staffer on the Senate Commerce Committee, said that the implied bargain when the act was passed was the NFL's continuing commitment to offer games on free, over-the-air TV.

She said the NFL continued to make that pledge, but also said that "given the "increasing amount of programming" moving from over-the-air to cable, that includes moves of games to the NFL Network and ESPN-"Congess should be considering its side of the bargain as well."

Stewart Jeffries, a minority staffer on House Judiciary, agreed that the network had made a number of moves to "put more items on pay channels and direct TV." He said there "continues to be interest at the staff level to take a look at not only this exemption, but all exemptions," adding: "I think we can expect to see some interest."

Christal Sheppard, House Democratic staffer, said that the committee was concerned as a matter of course. "Whenever there is anything existing or going forward that would put restrictions on competition, the Judiciary Committee is concerned about it. That includes the NFL deal."

She said that a review is not currently planned, but that "we continued to monitor the situation."