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Retirees suing the NFL for use of their images in NFL Films without their permission filed settlement papers yesterday afternoon with the Minnesota federal court overseeing the case, which was filed in '09. The settlement would allow the NFL unfettered use of retirees' images in NFL Films. The new CBA granted that right for the first time, but previous CBAs were murky on the subject. Dan Gustafson, the settlement attorney on the case, is at the NFL meetings. The settlement includes $42M contributed over eight years to a fund for retirees to cover various needs. In addition, the first independent licensing agency dedicated to the use of retired players' publicity rights will be created. The agency will be overseen by a board of retirees and operated apart from the NFL and NFLPA. However, the NFL will offer financial and promotional support. The agency is designed to allow companies easier access to retirees' images. The NFL will be allowed to continue to use retirees' images in historical footage (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer). Panthers Owner and former NFLer Jerry Richardson said the agreement was "better late than never." Richardson said, "Some of my most frustrating moments in discussions have evolved around this issue of what in my judgment is fairness to the former players of the league who were not included in the benefit packages and (not) appreciated the way they should. It is a new day. I am honored that this day has arrived. I am very grateful it is here" (AP, 3/18).
MAKING STRIDES: Pro Football HOFer Jim Brown, who was among several high-profile retirees at the NFL meetings, said the new licensing agency “is important because for the first time we will have our images count in all situations and be rewarded for that.” Brown: “We also will have the use of being a full partner with the NFL. We can create certain opportunities for ourselves, and we can also work in partnership with the NFL in creating opportunities that are beneficial for them, for us and for the owners.” Brown added, “Whatever we do, a portion will go into the fund for those who are in need in the Common Good (Fund) grouping. To all of us up here, that is a well-deserved way of looking at things because we are looking out for our brothers who are definitely in need” (NOLA.com, 3/18). Brown noted the fund will be for the "welfare of players who need it." Brown: "The $42 million will not go into the pockets of Jim Brown and people like myself, but it will be there to help those in need which has never happened before.” The licensing aspect “is also an important part because we can participate in our image being used. A portion of that will go to the Common Good Fund, but also we can grow that particular fund just by being in partnership with the owners and getting monies we never got before” (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 3/18).
A BIG DEAL: ESPN.com’s John Clayton wrote, “Don't minimize the settlement the NFL made with retired players.” Clayton: "Here is why this is important: If the settlement is approved by the court after a five-year fight, the board of retired players can establish an independent licensing agency for the publicity rights for retired players. It would operate separately from the NFLPA. For example, if a company wants to produce ads involving retired players and use footage of the players in uniform, the agency can strike deals that would add more money to the fund. This won't stop NFL Films from using the footage of game action of the past. It would involve new commercial ventures” (ESPN.com, 3/18).
The NFL is “teaming up with private-equity firm Providence Equity Partners in a search for ventures the two entities can jointly invest in,” according to Matthew Futterman of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. While the NFL and Providence have “yet to specify investments," they plan to have about $300M available to "invest in start-ups that work within sports, media and technology.” The partnership comes “15 months after NFL owners approved" the formation of a $32M strategic investment fund. League execs said that they “needed a partner that could both provide an entrée into flow of private-equity opportunities and figure out how the NFL might leverage its sought-after content.” Providence Senior Managing Dir Paul Salem said that the company and the NFL “foresee spreading the funds across several different investments, targeting companies" with a need for $25-50M in exchange for "significant equity.” Providence last year invested $150M for a minority interest in MLS' Soccer United Marketing (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/19).
HOT TOPICS: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell weighed in on a number of different topics yesterday at the owners meeting in Phoenix. He confirmed that the NFL “is working on a new league calendar which could push back" the start of free agency. Goodell said, "We presented an alternative calendar for the offseason. We think that it makes a lot of sense. I think the players saw the benefits of doing that and they wanted to talk to their membership, which they were doing last week at their meeting." NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal noted the idea is “to spread out the NFL's offseason events, perhaps pushing back the NFL Scouting Combine and free agency a few weeks.” Free agency could “wind up starting in April,” and the change “sounds inevitable” (NFL.com, 3/18). Meanwhile, Goodell also appeared to indicate that the effort put forth by players in the recent Pro Bowl might be enough to save the game. “Clearly there was an improved effort,” Goodell said of the game, which has been marred in past years by half-hearted play. “I have also had conversations with the players and so have our staff. They have also met with the Competition Committee last month to talk about what we can do to make the game more attractive, more exciting and more competitive. There are some very good ideas” (Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer). In addition, Goodell said expanding the playoff field from six teams in each conference “clearly won’t be happening for this year.” But in Boston, Greg Bedard writes the idea “is still being looked at” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/19).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday said it is a "positive" that AEG Chair Phil Anschutz is reengaging with the company following the departure of President & CEO Tim Leiweke last week, according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. Anschutz took AEG off the market, and Goodell said "because of the sales process, that's probably crippled any discussions for several months" of bringing an NFL team to L.A. Goodell: "But we look forward to reengaging with them and see if we can get something done." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft said that he recently "toured the downtown site and is encouraged about the possibilities in L.A." Kraft: "It's a great site, right in the heart of everything, but it's not the only site." Goodell said, "We do think it is a viable site. There are several viable sites in Los Angeles. All of them are on the table for us. We want to get back to Los Angeles, but we are going to look at every alternative we have to do that successfully" (L.A. TIMES, 3/19). Goodell said Anschutz' decision not to sell AEG is a "positive" development for the NFL's return (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 3/19).
INSIDE THE DEAL: In L.A., Michael Hiltzik wrote of Anschutz, "The thought that the terminally arrogant NFL has finally met its match in a negotiating adversary is comforting, up to a point." Anschutz has "let it be known that he's not certain that pro football would be an unalloyed plus for his enterprise." Yet the "downside of any talks between Anschutz and the NFL is that there's no 'given' that they won't result in Los Angeles taxpayers getting stuck with a big bill." If a deal happens, Anschutz and the NFL "will be in a position to press our political leaders for endless concessions" (L.A. TIMES, 3/16). In L.A., Rick Orlov wrote the "dirty little secret" of L.A.'s effort to bring an NFL team to town is it "doesn't matter who owns AEG." It also "doesn't matter what the NFL staff wants and recommends." It all "comes down to the 32 owners and whether they want to let someone new join their club" (DAILYNEWS.com, 3/18). In San Diego, Jay Paris wrote it is "obvious Anschutz doesn't have the stomach for the NFL, after being rebuffed on numerous fronts" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/16).
LEIWEKE'S LEGACY: In L.A., Jim Newton wrote Leiweke's departure could have a "significant" impact on L.A.'s ability to complete a football deal because there is an "escape clause in the agreement that makes the deal's closing contingent on either Leiweke's still being in place as chief executive officer or 'a qualified replacement' having been named as his successor." The city "gets to make that call, though it promises to 'act reasonably' in determining whether the replacement is qualified." That language was "placed in the agreement specifically because the city's trust in the deal was based largely on its faith in Leiweke." The clause "suggests both the special place Leiweke carved for himself in Los Angeles politics, as well as the special problems that his departure ... may now create." Newton wrote Leiweke was L.A.'s "muscle man," and though "not everyone likes him" he could "get the job done" (L.A. TIMES, 3/18). The UNION-TRIBUNE's Paris called Leiweke a "bully" who "got sand kicked in his face" last week. Paris: "Leiweke enjoyed throwing his barrel chest around, dismissing anyone questioning the sanity of shoehorning a 70,000-seat downtown stadium in an area more congested than a gathering of Padres starting pitching candidates" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/17). In L.A., Nick Green writes Leiweke was the opposite of the "shy, retiring Anschutz, a salesman and cheerleader with few peers who could speak unscripted in quotable machine-gun like bursts." He was the "outsize symbol of AEG, known for bombastic, hyperbolic contentions few dared contradict." What Leiweke "couldn't sell often came to pass anyway, propelled by the sheer force of his personality." He may have "met his match in NFL suits, unwilling to cede control of a massive and lucrative market to AEG" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 3/19).
GALAXY QUEST: MLSSOCCER.com's Scott French noted Leiweke's departure "stunned" the MLS Galaxy, but had "not shaken their belief that the club will continue on its path no matter who helms its ownership group." Coach & GM Bruce Arena said, "We're going to move on. It's unfortunate, but that's what we're charged to do." Leiweke was "praised as a forward-thinking leader who gave all of himself to make the Galaxy the 'gold standard' in American soccer" (MLSSOCCER.com, 3/15).