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The NFL will pay as much as $112.5M in legal fees to the counsel for the retirees who sued the league over allegedly misleading them on the dangers of concussions. The disclosure was made as part of a voluminous filing yesterday by the retirees' counsel seeking preliminary court approval of the announced $760M class action settlement. The legal fees are in addition to that amount, so including other costs, the NFL liability is around $900M. That is actually less than reports at the time of the Aug. 29 settlement announcement, which pegged the legal fees at over $200M. The filings yesterday were a long time coming, with retirees waiting four months for terms of the proposed settlement. The settlement divides all NFL retirees into two classes: those who have been diagnosed with impairments as defined by the settlement and those who have not. The settlement also covers players from the AFL, World League and NFL Europe. Impairments range from ALS to Alzheimer's to Parkinson's, as well as more moderate forms of dementia. Depending on the diagnosis and the number of years in the league -- and whether the diagnosis came from the baseline assessment program established by the settlement -- players or their estates are eligible for as much as $5M. But critics of the settlement say it largely benefits the most extreme cases.
COULD BE A GOOD DEAL FOR SOME PLAYERS: Attorney Jon King, who is repping former NFLer Craig Morton in a separate lawsuit against the NFL over concussions, in an e-mail wrote, “This may well be a good deal for certain players that qualify at the highest possible levels of this settlement. That will be an individual decision that every player will need to make. The NFL, of course, could settle with any individual former player, at any time, for any personal injuries, for any dollar amount. If the NFL was truly concerned about any particular players’ health situations, it could do just that, and still can do that at any time. But again, what the NFL really is after here is the global release.” By global release, King means that players who agree to the settlement give up their rights to sue the NFL over the issue. Players have to notify the court in writing to opt out. The settlement papers filed by the retirees' counsel say the settlement fund would last 65 years and cover retirees who develop illnesses in future years. Chris Seeger, the lead settlement counsel, is planning to speak to the media today at 12:30pm ET about the filings. The motion seeks preliminary approval from the court, as well as a schedule for hearing dates. In a statement released yesterday, Seeger said, “Both the baseline assessment and compensation programs were designed to protect retired players over the long-term, ensuring that these important benefits will be available to any eligible retired player who needs them.”
ADVERTISING PART OF SETTLEMENT: The court on Dec. 16 appointed a Special Master, Perry Golkin, to help it analyze the proposed settlement. The NFL as part of the proposed settlement has agreed to spend $4M on advertising to its retirees in forums ranging from SI to nursing home trade journals. If the court preliminarily approves the settlement, a fairness hearing must be held in which settlement members can object. Then the court must decide whether to certify the settlement.
An NFL spokesperson in a statement yesterday said that no decision "has been made about adding a wild-card team to each conference," thus expanding the playoff field to 14, according to Marc Sessler of NFL.com. The spokesperson said, "It would require a vote of the clubs and it has not yet been taken up with them" (NFL.com, 1/6). NFL Network's Ian Rapoport tweeted that a vote on the matter "may be voted on" at the next owners meeting in March (TWITTER.com, 1/7). "The statement came after Dan Patrick on his radio show yesterday cited a source as telling him that the league "will add a wild-card team in the AFC and the NFC next year." Patrick said, "Those are my sources close to sources who know sources who sort of know what's going on. But I'm told you'll have another wild-card team in the AFC and NFC next year. You can't add to the season, you can't go 18 games. I think the NFL realizes this. As much as they would love to, as greedy as they are, you can't do it. But you can add another playoff team." Patrick said he "would prefer not" to make it easier for teams to make the playoffs, but "I like how Jerry Jones is spearheading this." Patrick: "He's going to get the Cowboys into the postseason one way or another" ("The Dan Patrick Show," 1/6).
JONES-ING FOR MORE: CBSSPORTS.com's Ryan Wilson wrote Jones last week indicated that he would like to see "more than 12 teams" qualify for the playoffs." Jones on Friday said, "The fact that you can have a team that might have literally operated at .500 or in that area ... you can have that team win the Super Bowl. That makes a big case for adding a couple of more cities or communities that have NFL teams to the playoffs." Jones added, "It just creates that much more excitement and that much more interest for people in those communities. So I fall on the side of the ledger that would increase the playoffs" (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/4). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Michael David Smith wrote what Jones is advocating is a "playoff system that would bring more teams to the party." That would be "great for a team like this year’s Cardinals, who missed the playoffs despite going 10-6." But outside of the Cardinals, "every other team that had a winning record made the playoffs" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 1/3).
JUST A MATTER OF TIME? Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said he believes two more teams will be added to the postseason by '15, as that is a "way that the NFL is going to offset the loss of revenue that will happen when the preseason is reduced.” Florio: “There is a very, very, very good chance we’re never going to see 18 games. So if you’re going to reduce the preseason, you have to offset that revenue somewhere. And when 47 million people watch a Wild Card game, that makes it even more clear that they’re going to add more Wild Card games.” He added, “Huge audiences, huge dollars, and that offsets the loss of the preseason revenue" ("PFT," NBCSN, 1/6). ESPN's Michael Wilbon said it is a "bad idea to mess with perfection" and the NFL should "always leave people wanting a little bit more." Wilbon: "But that's not what's going to happen because there's money left on the table. ... This is going to happen, the question is is it going to happen next year." ESPN's Tony Kornheiser: "It's a perfect system now, but I have watched baseball add one team and a one-game playoff and I've liked it a lot. So I'm okay with this" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/6). S.F.-area KGMZ-FM's Mark Kreidler noted the NFL "drew record ratings" for the Wild Card weekend, and adding teams "to a playoff mix literally cannot hurt you." CSN Bay Area's Jim Kozimor said if he was the NFL, "I want my best teams playing. Reward them with a home game, get your extra money. This is win-win-win: Fans, league, teams" ("Yahoo Sports Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 1/6).
GOOD IN-GAME EXPERIENCE A NECESSITY: Patriots President Jonathan Kraft talked about the in-game experience for NFL fans during an appearance on "Arbella Early Edition" yesterday and said, "It's critical that you make that in-stadium experience special and unique. It’s why we keep investing in all types of things -- being the first stadium that had Wi-Fi in the bowl so you can screen video, the new boards we have. We’ve got some other things planned. But if you continue to invest in making that experience special, I think people will still come. Bottom line is, some of my best memories of childhood aren’t sitting on the couch with my dad and my brothers but it's actually going to the live sporting event and experiencing it." Kraft noted the fan bases in some of the cities that had difficulty selling-out last weekend "weren't sure that they were going to be hosting a playoff game." He said, "So when they got the invoices, they didn’t send them in. They said, 'Why am I going to let a team hold my money?' One of those teams I know doesn’t refund the money. They roll it into the next year and then they got caught. But I think for the most part you look around the league there's not going to be any problem this weekend or going forward. It was a unique case where two of those teams weren't certain they were going to host games, throw weather in and that's the issue" ("Arbella Early Edition," CSN New England, 1/6).
An official for the PGA Tour's Hyundai Tournament of Champions said there is a "big movement afoot" to expand the field for the event, according to Dave Shedloski of GOLF WORLD MONDAY. The subject is "broached annually," but it is "gaining traction with the concurrent expiration of the site contract at Kapalua Resort and Hyundai's title sponsorship after the 2015 edition." However, most players polled during last week's tournament "are opposed to changing the traditional field structure, while others doubted it would make much difference unless the marquee names attended." Golfer Brandt Snedeker said, "It wouldn't necessarily make the field better, but sponsor-wise and fan-wise, a larger field would probably create a little more buzz." Hyundai VP/Marketing Steve Shannon said that the company is "happy with this year's field" (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 1/7). The AP's Doug Ferguson wrote the subject of expanding the field "has more to do with names than numbers." One name "in particular comes to mind" in Tiger Woods, who has not played the event since '05, while Phil Mickelson has not played since '01. Golfer Brian Gay said, "It's the only one that's winners-only, right? It's different. It should be. It's always been different. I've heard people kicking around a two-year exemption, where you win and get in here for two years. That's not a terrible idea that way. But I think it's cool the way it is." Ferguson noted the options the Tour is considering "are a two-year exemption to Kapalua for winning or inviting the field from the Tour Championship." Golfer Adam Scott said, "It would be a shame to change it. Some things have to change, other things should stick with what they are. My feeling would be it would lose some of the gloss on the tournament if it was not the Tournament of Champions. What should you call it then?" (AP, 1/6).