SBD/February 2, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Special Master Rejects NFLPA's Complaint About NFL TV Payments

NFLPA plans to appeal special master's ruling in federal court in Minnesota
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).
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