SBD/April 22, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Lockout Watch, Day 42: League Rejects Law Firm's Request To Rep Group Of Players

The NFL "has rejected a law firm's request for a conflict-of-interest waiver to represent a group of players seeking to join the antitrust fight against the league," according to Dave Campbell of the AP. NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello Thursday said that the league "notified the firm of the denial." The firm was identified as Indianapolis-based Barnes & Thornburg. Aiello said that it "would be inappropriate to allow the firm to work with players in a claim against the NFL while one of its partners represents the league in music licensing for shows on NFL Network and NFL Films" (AP, 4/21). NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy said in an e-mail statement, "We notified the law firm that while we do not know the specifics of the claims that would be asserted or the players who would be involved, we cannot consent to the firm's request to grant a waiver. As a matter of policy, we do not believe it is appropriate to consent to firms bringing suit against the NFL while simultaneously representing league entities even on unrelated matters." The disclosure that the firm has been seeking to represent more than 70 players in the antitrust action has sent tremors through the sport, already awaiting a ruling from Judge Susan Nelson on whether she will move to lift the six-week-old lockout. Nine NFL players and draft prospect Von Miller are named plaintiffs in Brady v. NFL, which seeks to lift the lockout and end free agency restrictions. The issue the law firm was addressing is whether every NFL player is represented by the interests of that class, and the firm was seeking to have a seat at the table in discussions of a new deal. Barnes & Thornburg is known in sports for representing the Hamburg, Germany, tennis tournament in its lawsuit against the ATP for antitrust violation, but it has almost no role in football. The music licensing work for NFL Network and NFL Films was only added recently with the hire of a new partner in L.A. who brought the business with him (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).

DISGRUNTLED PLAYERS NOT COMING FORWARD: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch notes so far, "none of the 70 reportedly disgruntled players has stepped forward to publicly proclaim their displeasure with the 10 members ... representing the union in the ongoing antitrust case against the owners." Seahawks G Chester Pitts Thursday on Twitter speculated that the "reason for that is simple." Pitts: "They don't exist" (N.Y. POST, 4/22). Jaguars LB Kirk Morrison said the report that mid-level players were trying to get a seat at the bargaining table was "all rumor" ("Jim Rome Is Burning," ESPN, 4/21). 

COURT REPORT: The NFLPA is seeking damages in the so-called lockout insurance case from the NFL that could approach and possibly exceed $1B, the league disclosed in legal papers Thursday. Federal Judge David Doty ruled on March 1 that the NFL violated the CBA by negotiating provisions into its $4B of broadcast deals requiring payments in a lockout, finding the league had undersold the contracts. He has set a May 12 damages hearing, and the NFLPA laid out its case for damages late last month, but the financial request was redacted. Most of the numbers were also redacted in the NFL's brief, but the league did write the NFLPA is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages. In its brief, the NFLPA said it would seek punitive damages of three times the compensatory amount. The NFL contended in its brief that the NFLPA deserves no damages because it did not ask for them previously and because the union decertified. "To be sure the NFL does not agree that the NFLPA has abandoned collective bargaining," the league wrote. "But the NFLPA may not seek a remedy here to bolster or restore its leverage in collective bargaining while simultaneously arguing that as a result of its purported disclaimer, it is no longer engaged in collective bargaining and will not do so in the future." The league also disclosed that the damages of $6.9M assessed by the special master in his February decision has already been paid. Judge Doty overturned the special master's decision, finding wide-ranging violation of the CBA instead of the narrow example the special master found. The NFL brief relied heavily on the special master's finding, so it is unclear if the filing will sway Doty, who largely rejected those findings in his March 1 ruling. The NFLPA also wants the judge to force the league to put the media payments into an escrow account that cannot be tapped until after the lockout ends (Kaplan).

WIGGLE ROOM: ESPN.com's Adam Schefter reported the recently released NFL schedule "leaves open the possibility that there could be no games the first three scheduled weeks and all 16 regular-season games could still be played." Every game in Week 3 "has teams which share the same bye week later in the season," which means the teams "could make up that week's games on what was originally scheduled to be their bye." The NFL also "could lose the week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, and has secured hotel rooms in Indianapolis -- site of the Super Bowl XLVI -- for two weeks." That means the league "could start the season as late as Oct. 2, 2011 and still finish the Super Bowl by Feb. 12, 2012" (ESPN.com, 4/21).
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