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Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis historically tends to win in court. Just ask the Oakland City Council, the Internal Revenue Service, former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, and the assistant coach who complained to the Napa District Attorney when he allegedly got punched out on the job.
But the litigious Mr. Davis has never had much interest in the proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court. Until this week, when the Supreme Court handed down a decision that may benefit the Raiders as one of the most popular teams historically in NFL merchandise sales.
In the case of American Needle vs. the NFL, the Court ruled that NFL teams may be able to negotiate individual merchandise deals. The apparel company American Needle had sued the NFL over its exclusive marketing deal with Reebok, claiming this arrangement constituted a monopoly.
The Raiders are not unlike the Dallas Cowboys, a team that sells a ton of merchandise even in their lousy years. Traditionally a powerhouse franchise in the hat, jersey, and jacket sales department, the Raiders led the league in merchandise sales as recently as 2004.
Tops in the NFL, despite going 4-12 that season. There are Raiders fans everywhere.
That was the Raiders' third consecutive year with the top-selling team gear in the NFL. They've recently slipped out of the top ten in Darren Rovell's 2010 rankings on CNBC, which list only the top ten teams so as not to hurt any of the runner-ups' feelings.
But the Raiders are in a prolonged funky spell. It's safe to assume on historical precedent that their extended Los Angeles and national fan base would propel them back up top even if they'd only string together an average season or two.
You should additionally consider the 2010 rankings skewed and unreliable because of all the nutty Tim Tebow fanatics buying Donkey jerseys.
So a smaller market team like the Raiders could theoretically cash in directly on their merchandise sales advantage, canceling out some of the other disadvantages the Raiders have competing financially against teams with new ultra-modern stadiums or decade-long season ticket waiting lists.
"A Raiders revival would likely result in a silver and black bandwagon," writes Jerry McDonald on his Oakland Tribune blog, "which in theory would mean an avalanche of profits which wouldn’t have to be shared with anyone else."
So hat, jacket, and jersey manufacturers could someday soon negotiate individual deals with the Raiders and Al Davis.
Just beware of going to court against that guy.
Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who has no idea if this ruling would ever actually help the Raiders on the football field.