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NFL loses antitrust ruling

Supreme Court decision could affect videogame rights as EA monopoly comes under pressure

The National Football League (NFL) has lost a Supreme Court battle in the U.S., following a lawsuit from sports apparel maker American Needle.

American Needle claimed that the NFL's exclusive agreement with Reebok was an unfair limit on competition and kept prices for consumers artificially high. Lawyers also argued that other companies were left unable to negotiate agreements with individual teams.

According to website Game Politics the Supreme Court ruling overturns that of an earlier lower court and clears the way for a trial against "the joint marketing of the right to use the teams' logos and trademarks on consumer goods".

American Needle will now be attempting to prove that the NFL is not a single entity and that individuals and teams should be free to make separate deals with whatever company they choose.

If as a result it is ruled that the NFL agreement with Reebok is unfair then there are likely to be knock-on effects in the videogame industry, where Electronic Arts currently has an exclusive licensing deal with the NFL.

A victory by American Needle could then see publishers other than EA attempt to license individual teams and athletes for their own games, more similar to the arrangement with non-EA soccer titles such as Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer.

Although EA's deal with the NFL has been one of the most influential, causing almost all other publishers to give up on their own American football titles, similar arrangements exist in many other sports titles.

THQ's relationship with the UFC in particular has created headlines, with the UFC organisation threatening to blacklist any athlete who co-operates with EA's unofficial new MMA title.

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David Jenkins