Hard Ball

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In sports, strikes no longer are confined to attempts to hit well-pitched baseballs. Baseball and basketball players and owners have fought in labor relations; football players and umpires have also fought in the past. Economists James Quirk and Rodney Fort link those troubling disputes—and similar disruptions in professional sports—to the monopoly of power used and abused by the leagues: Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and the National Hockey League, in Hard Ball: The Abuse of Power in Pro Team Sports.

The Stanley Cup, World Series, and other championships mean less than quarterly returns on investment, depreciating a company, and corporate welfare in the form of subsidies, low-interest loans, grants, tax incentives, and other public funds, they write. Pro sports leagues control the market power, able to seize most income generated from gate receipts, rental pacts and related revenue sources, from concessions and parking to media rights and merchandising.

If the sports monopolies are broken up, cities need not be coerced into financing arenas and stadia, competitive balance is restored, and taxpayers and sports fans themselves once more are customers to be heard and served, not manipulated and exploited.

Through carefully documented facts and figures, case studies and anecdotes, the authors present a compelling picture of greed, influence, and the exception that proves the rule of anti-trust law.

There is no market economy in pro sports, no genuine competition, and no real rules except those drafted and adopted by the owners themselves. Despite dramatic changes in pro sports—not limited to labor disputes, they include free agency, the rise of collective bargaining, television as a key component to pro sports operations, and the too-common practice of threatening local government with moving a franchise unless financial concessions and other considerations are made—there has been no moderating force to rein in pro sports since Congress’s 1951 Celler committee heard testimony about baseball antitrust exemption. Fans and taxpayers suffer the consequences.

Decentralizing the leagues into free-market competitors could solve the problem, they add, and the U.S. Justice Department could help create a new, consumer-friendly pro sports environment by applying the antitrust laws other businesses must follow, to sports owners. Likely results would be more teams in big cities, more games on television, lower ticket prices, and fewer sweetheart deals for blackmailing sports owners.