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Senate Floor: THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE'S INQUIRY INTO PROFESSIONAL SPORTS

  • Joe Biden
    Person
Unknown

Joe Biden

Very Positive
Mr. President, on Monday, March 21, 1994, Senator Metzenbaum will open the Judiciary Committee's broad inquiry into professional sports when he convenes a field hearing in Tampa Bay, FL. Professional sports leagues in the United States are accorded special treatment -- a treatment that is not necessarily undeserved. Spectator sports have provided fans with entertainment for the family, role models for the children, and symbols around which to rally civic spirit. I know from my own personal experience with the Wilmington Blue Rocks Single-A baseball team that cities and towns with a sports team are all the wealthier for having a place to come together as a community to pull for the home team. In exchange, the fans not only have paid admission to attend the games, but have provided various other financial and legal incentives not normally available to other businesses. 5

Joe Biden

Slightly Positive
Regrettably, Mr. President, the owners and players of professional sports today have forgotten that in return for the special status they have been accorded, they have obligations to their communities that are more than making a profit or signing a multi-million dollar contract. The fans are owed more because the fans have been asked to do more. 6

Joe Biden

Positive
"Fans as taxpayers" provide their financial support for the often massive infrastructure that is needed by a professional team -- which can include the construction and maintenance of a stadium, parking lots, roads, sewers, utilities, and public transportation. 7

Joe Biden

Unknown
"Fans as voters" provide exemptions and exceptions in their laws, municipal regulations and zoning requirements that relate to television contract rights, neighborhood curfews, and variances. 8

Joe Biden

Leans Negative
"Fans as fans," after providing support as taxpayers and voters, are required to pay more for parking, pay more for tickets, pay more for hot dogs and pretzels, pay more to watch their favorite team on pay television, and even then, after "paying," are sometimes faced with threats by their team that it will move to another city. 9

Joe Biden

Leans Negative
Mr. President, clearly, the present state of affairs must change. The question is how. Senator Metzenbaum's focus in the past has been baseball's antitrust exemption. He introduced a bill a year ago that would repeal major league baseball's antitrust exemption. Last fall, I, along with many of the other members of the Judiciary Committee, asked him to conduct a broader examination of professional sports. The complaints often directed at major league baseball's antitrust exemption related to stadium financing, league expansion, franchise movement, television rights and salaries have also occurred or presently exist in professional sports that do not enjoy an antitrust exemption. 10

Joe Biden

Very Negative
The Judiciary Committee's examination of professional sports will proceed along two tracks to determine the proper extent of congressional involvement. First, the committee needs to determine the role Congress should take to deal with the complaints from the public involving stadium financing, broadcasting rights, the move to pay television, and owner and player conduct. Conflicts in these areas have raised issues as to the "public mindedness" and responsibilities of professional sports leagues and teams to local communities. Second, the committee needs to consider a set of graduated steps -- other than simply eliminating baseball's antitrust exemption -- that Congress might take to guarantee that all professional sports meet their obligations to fans and taxpayers. 11

Joe Biden

Very Positive
Because Senator Metzenbaum's hearing will take place during major league baseball's spring training, I have no doubt that ample attention will be given to the issues involving the antitrust exemption and the recent restructuring of the still vacant commissioner's office. As I pointed out last fall, I certainly do not dispute that major league baseball receives special treatment under the antitrust laws, and I think the assertion of some people, including that of former Commissioner Fay Vincent from the September 26, 1993, New York Times, that "baseball deserves its immunity from the antitrust laws" should be reconsidered in light of recent events. These events suggest that the Judiciary Committee examine the legal and financial advantages bestowed upon baseball and other professional sports by the citizens of this country. 12

Joe Biden

Very Negative
The failure of the owners to hire a commissioner is disappointing. In the past, an independent baseball commissioner has maintained the health and integrity of the sport by balancing the interests of the fans with the concerns of the players and the owners. The owners' omission is exacerbated by the fact that a commissioner, the fans' representative, will not be available to help resolve the remaining and potentially contentious labor issues over which the Major League Baseball Players Association has threatened a strike later this summer. 13

Joe Biden

Very Positive
These issues are important and I look forward to reviewing the hearing record. As the committee carries out this examination, the focus must be on the issues that affect the fans. I am specifically concerned about the potential effect the proposed repeal of baseball's antitrust exemption on minor league baseball, and issues that exist regardless of the antitrust exemption related to league expansion and franchise movement, taxpayer financed stadiums, television rights, and salary caps, revenue sharing and player salaries. 14

Joe Biden

Very Positive
The dependence of minor league baseball on major league baseball's antitrust exemption needs to be ascertained. Minor league teams exist in more than 150 communities across the country, including Wilmington, DE, the home of the Blue Rocks. As many of us are aware, on March 3, 1994, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues held a "Congressional Education Day" that brought representatives from more than 100 minor league baseball teams to Capitol Hill offices. These minor league teams oppose repealing the exemption because they contend that most minor league clubs do not have the financial resources to identify players and negotiate salaries. Presently, major league baseball provides the players and pays all the salaries for minor league clubs, in addition to paying expenses for uniforms, equipment, and travel. The importance of the minor leagues to the more than 30 million fans that attended games last year is undoubted. Before taking steps to repeal the exemption, the Judiciary Committee needs to explore the historical relationship between major league baseball and the minor leagues to determine whether alternatives exist to support minor league baseball from the largest to the smallest communities. 15

Joe Biden

Somewhat Positive
Issues with regard to league expansion and franchise movement exist in all professional sports leagues. Increasingly, stadium finacing and revenues have been tied to whether a league will grant a city a new franchise or whether an existing franchise will remain. Because this problem exists in all sports, it is not necessarily tied to the antitrust exemption. 16

Joe Biden

Very Positive
Recently, major league baseball announced the possibility of expanding the league by creating two additional teams. No doubt, the announcement will inspire a flury of activity and expenditures on the part of a number of cities in order to attract a team. Such activity is not unique to baseball, however, as recently evidenced by the bidding for two new NFL franchises on the part of Memphis, St. Louis, Charlotte, Baltimore, and Jacksonville. In order to gain its franchise, Jacksonville committed to a $121 million renovation of the Gator Bowl. St. Louis has started construction of a $258 million domed stadium in the belief it will get an NFL franchise eventually. All of the cities spent significant amounts of money merely to be considered as a viable location. 17

Joe Biden

Very Positive
Recently, many football and baseball teams have threatened to leave for other cities unless the city builds a new stadium or provides favorable arrangements on concessions such as parking and sky boxes. Locally, Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, is in the process of trying to move his team out of Washington if he can find a municipal or State government to finance a stadium. The city of Buffalo recently announced it will spend $23 million on the Bills' stadium -- $5 million on the largest scoreboard in the country and an undisclosed amount on new private suites. The Bills organization indicated that any needed additional revenue would be covered by increased ticket prices. The Judiciary Committee should consider whether the taxpayers' return on these stadium improvements are comparable to their investments. 18

Joe Biden

Slightly Positive
Purportedly, there is a movement to pay television among the professional sports leagues. The recent television contract major league baseball signed has raised concerns because it could mean that playoffs are not on network television for the first time ever. Certainly, on step the committee should take is a review of the law that provides a limited antitrust exemption for all professional sports leagues to negotiate television contracts. The law was passed in 1966 and has not been amended since that time even though telecasting has changed radically. The original purpose and foundation for the law should be examined in light of the expanded use and availability of cable television and pay per-view. 19

Joe Biden

Very Positive
Normally, Congress would not take an interest in the salaries or financial arrangements of a private business. In the case of professional sports, however, the many instances in which municipalities and States provides funds for facilities create a public interest in the fiscal health of a team. The committee has an obligation at least to highlight the different options available to assure that teams remain viable and community money is not wasted. The owners of major league baseball have recommended a salary cap to be imposed on each team. Presently, the National Basketball Association has a salary cap, and the National Football League will have one in place next season. 20

Joe Biden

Very Positive
In addition, the ability of teams in small media markets to exist and remain competitive becomes less certain as team salaries rise. A city's significant investment in stadiam infrastructure is threatened when a team fails. Baseball has a revenue sharing proposal under negotiation to attempt a more equitable distribution of money among teams from large and small media markets. The commitee needs to consider whether measures such as a salary cap and revenue sharing will help to stabilize clubs financially in small media markets and protect the investment of the local community. 21

Joe Biden

Very Positive
Mr. President, the Judiciary Committee has undertaken a bold examination as part of its obligation to address the problems facing sports fans. I look forward to reviewing the proceedings of Senator Metzenbaum's next hearing and those in the future. I am confident that in the end, the committee will develop a comprehensive and effective approach to restore the importance of the fan in the scheme of professional sports. 22