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SBD/February 2, 2011/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
The NFL said that a ruling from Special Master Stephen Burbank yesterday entitles the league to "rights-fee payments from television networks during a work stoppage," according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. The payments would "provide the NFL's franchise owners with about $4 billion in revenue next season even if they lock out players" after the CBA expires on March 4. NFL officials have said that "any payments from the networks to the league during a work stoppage eventually would have to be repaid." The NFLPA had filed a complaint with the special master "challenging the structure of the league's TV contracts." The union argued that the money "provides the owners with what amounts to a lockout fund because payments must be made during a work stoppage." But the NFL in a statement last night said, "The Special Master squarely rejected the union's demand that the NFL be denied access to payments that the league's television partners are obligated to make for the 2011 season." A source indicated that the NFLPA was awarded $6.9M in "damages as a result of the timing of certain rights-fee payments by the TV networks to the league." The source said that the union "had contended in its case that the league gave away certain 2009 and 2010 rights to the networks with no consideration in return, and the union had sought approximately $60 million in damages in addition to attempting to prevent the NFL from accessing about $4 billion in TV rights fees in 2011." Maske noted the NFLPA last night "claimed a measure of victory in Burbank's ruling but acknowledged its plan to appeal." The union has filed a "separate case with Burbank that alleges collusion by owners." That case has yet to be resolved (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 2/1). NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir for External Affairs George Atallah in a statement said Burbank found that the NFL violated the '93 antitrust agreement establishing free agency "with respect to the NFL's negotiation of lockout insurance in its contracts with ESPN and NBC." Atallah noted that the union will "file an expedited appeal in federal court in Minnesota" (NYTIMES.com, 2/1).
THE RULING ON THE FIELD: YAHOO SPORTS' Doug Farrar wrote "that the owners now have the money needed to dig in and wait the players out not only gives one side unfair advantage, it also sets up several needless complications -- a good sign that what we have here is a bad ruling." The NFL's TV partners are "now looking at paying millions of dollars for something that they cannot televise." The owners are "going to hoard money in payment for services that cannot be rendered and a product that doesn't exist ... unless the plan from here on out is to use replacement players again." Farrar noted the players now can "go full bore with the statement they've been making all along -- that in a time of unprecedented financial well-being for the league, all they've wanted to do was to keep the game going under the same parameters that have existed" since '06. That is "not what the owners want, but as the owners are basically in the position of taking free money ... the hearts and minds of the public will most likely swing to the players" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/1).
With the first date on which NFL clubs can place a franchise tag on a player now just eight days away, the question of whether teams can tag players for next season if no new CBA is in place could fuel a new fire in the ongoing labor battle between the league and players union. Teams typically can place a franchise tag on a player starting 22 days before the start of the league year. Drawing back from March 4, which would be the start of the new league year and when free agency typically begins, that would make Feb. 10 the date on which teams could start applying tags. March 4 of this year, however, would also be the first day for the league and players without a CBA if the two sides cannot reach agreement on a new deal. The NFLPA has taken the position, sources said, that the NFL cannot tag players because the tag is a term and condition for employment under the next CBA, which has not yet been negotiated. The union, the sources said, has not made a secret of its position, as the free agent tag period is not noted, unlike every other major deadline involving NFL player contracts, on the NFL certified adviser calendars it has distributed to all agents. “I expect the franchise tag to continue to operate as it has in prior seasons and clubs to be permitted to exercise their rights under the tag,” said NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash. It is not clear how the tag dispute may be resolved. “I think the clubs are aware of the PA’s position,” said one prominent agent, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on union matters. “I believe that will be an issue involving the legal process or collective bargaining.”