Congress Revoking MLB's Antitrust Exemption Comes Into Play Regarding the Oakland A’s Potential Move to Las Vegas

With the Nevada state legislature set to reconvene in special session on June 12 to consider SB1, which would provide up to $380M in taxpayer dollars to assist the Oakland A’s in moving to Las Vegas, it is time to note that the expression “politics makes strange bedfellows,” coined by 19th Century American novelist Charles Dudley Warner, may well spring to life in the very near future. Congressperson Barbara Lee, whose district includes Oakland and who embodied The Squad while they were still in literal diapers, and the conservative’s conservative Senator Ted Cruz are two of the more unlikely politicians to agree on what color the sky is today, let alone anything policy-related. Nevertheless, both have reached the same conclusion, albeit for different reasons. Namely, in light of Major League Baseball’s recent actions, its antitrust status, enabled via a 1922 Supreme Court decision, needs to be severely modified if not disposed of altogether. Said actions include moving the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta in a knee-jerk reaction to Georgia’s voting rights law passed that year and the current effort to move the Oakland A’s to Las Vegas.


A quick refresher on the 2021 conundrum. As noted here in April 2021 by Jennifer Van Laar and Sister Toldjah among other writers, MLB moved that year’s All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in a snit over Georgia’s then-freshly enacted voting laws, which the left screamed were designed to disenfranchise minority voters. The law did nothing of the sort, but let’s not let pesky facts get in the way of a virtue-signaling moment.

In response to MLB’s actions, Senator Cruz and other Republican Senators proposed stripping baseball of its antitrust status. The move did not succeed.

Yet another quick refresher, this time on what antitrust entails. The 1890 Sherman Act prohibits businesses from colluding with one another to manipulate prices and supplies artificially or, to put it another way, outlaws anti-competitive and monopolistic practices. In the early 20th Century, a third professional baseball league, the Federal League, operated in direct competition with the National and American Leagues. The Federal League filed suit against the other two leagues claiming they were colluding to sink the Federal League. Shortly after that, the American and National Leagues bought out most Federal League teams and team owners, with one exception in Baltimore. The Baltimore franchise persisted in pursuing the matter through the courts, and it eventually wound up in the Supreme Court’s lap. The Court ruled the National and American Leagues were exempt from the Sherman Act because … brace yourself … major league baseball did not constitute interstate commerce and therefore was outside of the federal government and Sherman Act’s prerogative. Don’t think about it too hard.


Fast forward to the present day. On June 7, Congressperson Lee sent an open letter to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Skipping the cultural significance elements — like Manfred cares — the letter’s meat is most interesting.

The City of Oakland and Alameda County have worked to assemble a compelling plan for a new ballpark and surroundings, including items the A’s had previously publicly said were indispensable for a new home field. And yet recent press reports suggest the team and Major League Baseball are pursuing an alternative that includes none of these assets.

These reports lead me and many in the East Bay to conclude that the A’s and MLB have in fact not been acting in good faith. As a federal legislator, I believe such actions are inconsistent with federal policy goals related to the MLB’s exemption from antitrust scrutiny.

In a July 2022 letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, you volunteered that, “The antitrust exemption helps ensure that MLB Clubs maintain deep and enduring relationships with their fan bases, whereas franchises in other major professional sports regularly relocate from one market to another.” That same month, in an interview published in the Los Angeles Times, you are quoted as saying “The principal utility of the exemption is that it allows us to be more aggressive than other leagues in preventing franchise relocation. It is a fan-friendly doctrine in the law.”

Yet in this case, Major League Baseball is actively seeking to subsidize the relocation of the Oakland A’s through your public offer to waive MLB’s standard relocation fee and actively take crucial revenue, and a cultural staple, from the East Bay.

MLB’s continued active encouragement of the A’s abandonment of Oakland and the East Bay runs counter the rationale supporting MLB’s century-old exemption from federal antitrust law. I ask you to reconsider efforts to subsidize or otherwise encourage the relocation of the Oakland A’s out of the East Bay. Thank you for your full and fair consideration of this matter.


Translation: This time, you’re not ticking off just the Republicans.

Speaking of such, Democratic legislator and Speaker of the Nevada Assembly Steve Yeager has posted a lengthy Twitter thread regarding his thoughts on the current special session.

With the more recent interest in the #NVLeg, particularly when it comes to #SB1 relating to the #Athletics, please allow me to provide some context related to the 35th Special Session and the #NVLeg generally. A 🧵:

Although we heard #SB509 in a joint session a few days after it was introduced, the end of session sprint did not allow for a thorough vetting. In addition, we made clear that we could not seriously consider it until we had the budget locked in:

The Governor vetoed a critical budget bill on June 1, just 4 days before the end of the regular session, effectively killing further discussion on #SB509 because our number one duty as legislators is to pass a balanced budget for the state:

The redo of that budget bill ultimately didn’t get signed until the very last night of the regular session, a few hours before midnight, which obviously left no time for consideration of #SB509, which we said time and time again would not be a “ram and jam.”

So let’s be clear why we are now in yet another special session to consider #SB1. The original legislation was introduced very late in the regular session and the Governor chose to veto a critical budget bill in the waning days of the regular session.

Disregarding our advice to wait on calling a special session, the Governor called it anyway. Normally special sessions for policy issues are coordinated in terms of scheduling & there is a general consensus that folks are likely to be supportive of the contemplated legislation.

Neither happened here. But, because we are legislators committed to serve, we will and are vetting #SB1 to decide whether it makes sense for Nevada. Despite what some (surprisingly) thought, this was never going to be a quick “ram and jam” session, nor is this “juiced in.”

And rather than continue to burn legislators and staff out, we decided to give everybody the weekend to rest and reset. That doesn’t mean conversations have ceased happening. It just means we aren’t requiring everyone to be in the legislative building in Carson City.

We will be back on Monday to continue this process and thoughtfully consider whether #SB1 is in the best interest of Nevada. We realize there are strong opinions on this topic but we, as legislators, are just trying to do the right thing here, despite all the noise.

One last thing. If you are going to come at me with the “we will vote you out if you pass this” – please save yourself the time if you don’t live in Nevada. Or if you don’t live in my district. Fewer than a dozen of my 75,000 actual constituents have weighed in on this issue.


Stay tuned. This is getting interesting. And wouldn’t it be a hoot to see Lee and Cruz work together on this?


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