It was a rare win for plantiffs in an antitrust case this morning as the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the National Football League in its bid to be viewed as a single enterprise immune from antitrust scrutiny. The ruling came in the case American Needle Inc. v. National Football League (pdf).

Retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, who began his career as an antitrust lawyer in Chicago, authored the decision. American Needle, one of several suppliers of NFL apparel, brought the challenge in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois under the Sherman Act after the NFL granted an exclusive contract to Reebok for licensed headwear. The trial court granted summary judgment to the NFL, and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, noting that football can only be played jointly and that for some purposes it can be viewed as a single entity.