SBD/February 25, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Judge David Doty Hears Arguments In NFL TV Rights Fees Case

NFL slated to receive $4B from TV partners this year even if there is a lockout
U.S. District Court Judge David Doty Thursday heard NFLPA lawyers seek his reversal of a decision by Special Master Stephen Burbank that league owners can retain $4B in broadcast rights fees in '11, even if there is a lockout of the players this fall. Referring to internal league documents, union lawyer Thomas Heiden said the owners' proactive decision to redo TV deals so they could build a lockout war chest was all about, “Leverage, leverage, leverage” and inflicting “economic harm to the players.” Heiden and Jeffrey Kessler, another union lawyer, asked Doty to issue an injunction halting the league’s access to the TV payments, which would be made throughout the year. But NFL lawyer Gregg Levy told Doty that the NFL has long had work stoppage payment provisions in its TV deals, that its efforts to gain that cash during '11 was not “malevolent” and that the union, Levy said, “wants this court to put its thumb on the scales of the collective-bargaining process.” He called the possibility of a reversal of Burbank’s decision “repugnant.” Indeed, Doty himself called Burbank’s work on the decision “masterful.” At the end of the three-hour-long hearing, Doty allowed that he understood the magnitude of any decision on the TV money. Responding to Levy’s allegation about the union’s intent that he put his “thumb on the scales of collective bargaining,” Doty said of the CBA talks, “I hope they settle the matter and I hope in settling it they settle this dispute with it.” Doty added that he was mindful that his decision in this TV matter could “weigh very heavily on the parties” (Jay Weiner, THE DAILY).

TRYING NOT TO SHIFT THE POWER: In Minneapolis, James Walsh reports Doty “seemed leery of doing anything that would shift the balance of power to one side or the other while negotiations on a new [CBA] are ongoing.” Doty said to union attorneys, “It appears that what you would like the court to do is put its thumb on the scales.” Kessler replied, “We think their violations put their thumb on the scales” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 2/25). Also in Minneapolis, Mark Craig notes Doty “made it clear in his closing statements that he will expedite his decision.” He has been “considered a favorable judge for the union since his role in the case that produced the NFL’s current free agency system in 1993” (STARTRIBUNE.com, 2/24).

RUNNING UNDERNEATH THE RADAR: SI.com’s Jim Trotter wrote it is “disappointing Thursday’s three-hour hearing hasn’t gotten more play because it carries more impact than any discussions taking place in Washington.” The owners have “argued that the TV extensions are important because they’ll enable teams to manage their debt service during a work stoppage.” Should Doty rule against the league, some owners “might have a hard time meeting their financial obligations during a lengthy lockout.” The players would be in a “tough spot if Doty ruled against them because, contrary to popular perception, this is not a battle of billionaires versus millionaires” (SI.com, 2/24).
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