Cindy R. Alexander and David Reiffen

Vertical Contracts as Strategic Commitments: How are They Enforced?

This paper addresses the strategic commitment value of various price and nonprice vertical contracts. Assuming contract offers are sufficiently public to have strategic importance, we focus on commitment as a necessary and separable condition to be met. The analysis has two components. First, considering the relationship between a monopolist manufacturer and his imperfectly competing retailers, enforcement conditions necessary for alternative vertical contracts to have commitment value are identified in the static (reputation-free) context. It is shown that external help (i.e., enforcement by nonsignatories) is necessary for bilateral minimum resale price maintenance (price floors) and exclusive territory contracts to have commitment value, whereas maximum resale price maintenance (price ceilings) do not require such help (i.e., they are internally enforcing). Second, the paper provides an analysis of the U.S. case law and discusses the empirical validity of the “external enforcement” assumption that is shown to underlie recent proposals to make certain vertical restraints illegal.