Friday, March 12, 2004

NFL denies acting as monopoly

League responds to county lawsuit on stadium deal

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NFL officials denied Thursday that the league acted as a monopoly during negotiations to build Paul Brown Stadium, forcing Hamilton County into an unfair lease agreement.

The denial came a day after county commissioners voted 2-0 to join a federal antitrust lawsuit that accuses the Bengals and the NFL of abusing the power of a monopoly over professional football.

The suit seeks to recover more than $200 million of the $450 million spent to acquire land and build the stadium, which opened in 2000.

Although the NFL is the nation's only major pro football league, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said that was not a factor in stadium negotiations.

He said voters and local leaders could have chosen to spend the money on a variety of other sports or entertainment facilities, or to spend it on something else entirely.

"We are not a monopoly in any context that is relevant here," Aiello said. "We have no monopoly power in respect to the city and the county."

The lawsuit claims the NFL violates federal antitrust laws because it restricts public ownership of teams, misleads communities about the economic condition of its franchises and uses the threat of relocating franchises to win huge concessions.

Negotiations to build the stadium in Cincinnati took place after the Bengals threatened to leave town.

The Bengals' lease is among the most generous in the NFL, and commissioners now claim the deal was made only because the league and the team broke antitrust rules.

Aiello said the league acted appropriately and both the county's voters and elected officials agreed to invest in the stadium.

"An NFL franchise delivers substantial benefits to a community. It's by no means a one-way street," Aiello said. "There never was any sound basis for attacking the underlying arrangements. That continues to be true today."


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