The City of Oakland is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review its antitrust challenge over the relocation of the National Football League’s Raiders to Las Vegas, alleging that it is a victim of an NFL “cartel.”
The city is challenging the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that it lacks antitrust standing because of the indirectness of its injuries, the speculative measure of harm, and the difficulty in calculating damages.
If the high court were to reinstate the case, the NFL could face a tough fight, attorney Jeffrey Kessler, a partner with Winston & Strawn LLP in New York told Bloomberg Law. Kessler’s practice includes antitrust and sports law.
“Standing is the league’s best defense,” Kessler said. “The NFL has great trouble on issues of basic liability for restricting the number of teams, so its best defense is to avoid those issues and say the city can’t show it was injured,” he said.
“If the Supreme Court reverses, the league could well be looking at a jury trial to determine whether the city has alleged non-speculative injuries,” Kessler said.
Although the Ninth Circuit deemed the claims speculative, the same could have been said about claims filed by St. Louis over the Rams’ move to Los Angeles, Kessler said. That case was resolved when the NFL and Rams owner Stan Kroenke agreed in November 2021 to pay the city $790 million.
“From an antitrust perspective, the National Football League is an unambiguous cartel,” Oakland said in its petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court. The NFL’s rules allow it to accept “outsized contributions” from cities that want to host a team, including public financing for luxurious stadiums, the city said.
The Raiders were based in Oakland from the creation of the franchise in 1960 until 1982 and again from 1994 to 2019. In 2017, the team announced their intention to relocate to Las Vegas drawing a lawsuit from Oakland.
The city sued the NFL for millions of dollars in financial losses, alleging violations of federal antitrust laws.
In December, the Ninth Circuit refused to revive the lawsuit, finding the city failed to show evidence of a group boycott by the NFL and its 32 member teams.
Oakland in the petition, docketed Monday, said it went to “extraordinary efforts to keep the Raiders from leaving,” but ultimately couldn’t match the $750 million Las Vegas offered the team. When the city was “unable to meet the cartel’s demands,” the NFL moved the Raiders to Las Vegas, Oakland said.
The city asked the justices to review how courts have applied the ruling in Lexmark International Inc. v. Static Control Components Inc.
“May a court deny a plaintiff with an antitrust injury proximately caused by a defendant’s antitrust violation a Clayton Act cause of action based on a multifactor, prudential balancing test of ‘antitrust standing,’” the petition asks.
The city alleges that the decision to move the team, and to deny Oakland a new expansion franchise, constituted a group boycott.
Oakland also asserts that limiting the number of NFL franchises drove up the price of hosting a team “far beyond the marginal costs of operating an NFL team and far beyond the price that would be found in a competitive marketplace.”
The city alleges the Raiders paid the other NFL clubs $378 million for voting “yes” on the Las Vegas relocation.
Goldstein & Russell PC, Pearson, Simon & Warshaw LLP and Berg & Androphy represent the city.
The case is City of Oakland v. Oakland Raiders, U.S., No. 21-1243, 3/14/22.