As the NFL gets ready to kick-off the 2015 season on Thursday with an intriguing match-up between last year’s Super Bowl champions, The New England Patriots, and the Pittsburg Steelers, the league is also preparing for a lobbying blitz on the Hill. The NFL has had a turbulent off-season plagued by headline grabbing stories such as the now infamous “deflategate,” player safety and criticisms of both on and off field violence in the sport.
The NFL is no stranger to the world of lobbying; it is the only major sports league to have its own full time lobbying shop in Washington, D.C. The NFL’s lobbying efforts are led by Cynthia Hogan, a former attorney to Vice President Joe Biden. Politico reports that Hogan said the “NFL would be briefing the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee on player safety and pro football’s new efforts to pay for research into head injuries” in a series of closed-door meetings.
Hogan and the rest of the NFL’s lobbying team certainly will certainly be kept busy for the near future facing challenging issues on multiple fronts from members of Congress. For example, “several Democratic senators have led the charge, from Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein demanding a “zero-tolerance policy” for players who commit domestic violence to Maria Cantwell and Harry Reid pressuring Goodell into taking a stand on whether the Redskins should drop their mascot,” according to Politico.
One of the most significant legislative priorities for the NFL is the protection of the league’s antitrust exemption. Politico reports, this exemption, which congress granted for all of the major professional sports leagues, allows “their teams to work and negotiate in concert, something most other industries can’t do”. In the past this exemption has been the target of some lawmakers who seek to use the league’s exemption as leverage against the NFL to force the league to become more accountable for issues such as player safety. For example, in the 113th Congress Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced S.2974 or the Sustained Promotion Of Responsibility In Team Sports (SPORTS) Act. The SPORTS Act, according to Sen. Blumenthal, “would sunset the four major professional sports leagues’ (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) permanent anti-trust exemption, and replace it with an every-five-years reauthorization conditioned on the leagues acting consistently with the public trust their special status requires… Ninety-five days before each exemption is scheduled to sunset, a special commission, composed of heads of Executive Branch offices with jurisdiction over issues relevant to the leagues, will provide Congress with a report regarding the leagues’ behavior. In particular, the Commission’s report will discuss how the leagues have treated their employees and how they have responded to inappropriate conduct by their employees and owners. The Commission’s report will ensure that before Congress decides whether to grant the leagues a public benefit—their antitrust exemptions—it has access to a thorough, fair, and honest assessment of whether the leagues have served or harmed the public interest.”
On April 28th, 2015 Sen. Blumenthal said he plans to re-introduce the SPORTS Act in the 114th Congress.
Nevertheless, as the NFL continues its lobbying efforts on the Hill, Hogan reminds us that “It’s a long road, and it’s not one that we think we’re at the end or we’ve somehow fixed everything, but we made really, really significant changes, and I think that we went from a place where we were not doing everything we could do to really being in the lead of what a private entity can do in this area.”