The U.S. Supreme Court only agrees to hear about 1% of petitions. At least four of the nine justices must agree to grant certiorari.
Unfortunately, for the City of Oakland, no more than three justices wanted to review their antitrust lawsuit against the NFL over the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas. On Monday, the Supreme Court denied Oakland’s effort in a blunt two-word statement: “Petition DENIED.”
Oakland’s antitrust case had already suffered two defeats: first at the district court level in 2020 and last year before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Oakland maintained that the NFL and its teams acted as a cartel by limiting the number of franchises in the league. This limitation, Oakland insisted, raised the cost burden on cities to keep their teams when other cities dangle new stadiums. Limiting franchises also makes acquiring an expansion team more difficult and costly, Oakland argued. Oakland characterized the $378 million relocation fee the Raiders paid to the NFL (and other teams’ owners) as tantamount to one member of a cartel bribing others.
The legal problem with this argument, the lower courts found, is that Oakland was only negotiating with one team—the Raiders—not the league or other teams. This meant that there was no relevant cartel boycotting Oakland, since only the Raiders were at the bargaining table.
Meanwhile, the NFL maintained that Oakland falsely tried to portray ordinary business decisions as illegal acts. The league stressed that the Raiders were unhappy with the Oakland Coliseum and its conditions, found a better opportunity in Las Vegas and made a sufficient argument to the league to approve the relocation. That sequence of events, the NFL reasoned, doesn’t credibly describe an antitrust violation or injury. It instead describes a business identifying a superior option and pursuing it.
Had the Supreme Court reviewed Oakland’s case, the decision could have posed profound implications for not only the NFL but for other leagues (less so MLB given its antitrust exemption). A ruling for Oakland would have strengthened the hand of cities with franchises that flirt with opportunities in other markets. Cities, in that situation, could more capably portray relocations as potential antitrust violations, thus raising the risks of costs for teams when attempting to move.
Oakland has also unsuccessfully sought a state court lawsuit claiming that the NFL engaged in illegal breach and unjust enrichment under California law. Courts have found Oakland was not a third-party beneficiary of the NFL constitution, even though a St. Louis court was open to that possibility in litigation over the Rams’ move to Los Angeles.