There are a few types of legal issues facing sports leagues: labor law as professional sports has quickly evolved into a multi-billion dollar business requiring specialized labor law practitioners; contract law as leagues often sign billion-dollar contracts with broadcasters and advertisers, requiring specialized contract lawyers; unfair competition and antitrust issues as sports leagues have increasingly looked for ways to promote their events and increase their attendance, often in innovative ways, and with local and federal antitrust rules; and torts as sports players are prone to injury during practice or competitions, requiring specialized lawyers in tort.
The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) was founded in 1906 to regulate collegiate sports as a business to protect student-athletes interests. The NCAA has three primary goals, namely:
- ensuring that competitions are conducted fairly and consistently,
- ensuring that athletes have a safe, comfortable environment to live and practice in, and
- Promoting athlete welfare.
Unlike intercollegiate sports, international amateur sports run organizations ranging from groups with loose governance structures (think FIFA) to ones with solid central control (like the International Olympic Committee). This variance in governance can create challenges for the international sports industry, particularly regarding issues around management, doping, and more.
The professional sports leagues and associations (such as the National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball) in the United States have unique legal issues that arise regularly.
For example, while most employees are technically allowed to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) acknowledged in 1967 that professional athletes have the right to form unions, or "players associations."
It is common for these professional players' associations to call for work strikes during the preseason and regular season to apply pressure on owners, usually while negotiating salary standards for the league.
The issue of drug abuse in professional sports has been a hot topic in recent years. Scandals involving steroid abuse and doping have recently made headlines, leading to congressional hearings and international investigations.
Sports contracts are commonplace in today's sports industry. There are sports agents, franchise agreements between teams, and endorsement deals for athletes.
Sports law also deals with contracts in industries outside of sports, ranging from media rights for broadcasting and streaming to merchandise deals for teams.
Sports law is a unique type of law because it's so broad. But, in principle, it is the same type of law as other areas of the lawthey all deal with the rules of a social system.