American Needle v. National Football League

January 2010

On January 13, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral argument in American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League, a case presenting questions of antitrust and intellectual property (IP) law that potentially could change the manner in which professional sports leagues conduct business. As the author of a leading sports law textbook told, the Court's decision in American Needle "could easily turn out to be the most significant sports law decision ever."


  • American Needle, a former licensee of the NFL, sought Supreme Court review after it unsuccessfully challenged the NFL's grant of an exclusive apparel license to Reebok.
  • The Supreme Court will consider the question of whether NFL teams should be deemed to be a "single entity" for purposes of analyzing whether certain collective undertakings could violate antitrust law.
  • A decision in the NFL's favor could exempt the league — and potentially similarly situated professional sports leagues — from the review of certain business activities under antitrust law.
  • A decision in American Needle's favor could require collective activities to be subject to a case-by-case review as to whether pro-competitive effects outweigh potential anti-competitive harm.

This alert provides background on the case, an explanation of the NFL's "Single Entity" defense and the potential impact of the Supreme Court's decision.

To continue reading, please click the linked article above.