In a day of dueling legal motions, the NFL on Thursday asked a federal court to throw out a defamation lawsuit brought by suspended Saints LB Jonathan Vilma, while hours later the player asked the court to block the suspension. The NFL has suspended Vilma for the season for his role in the alleged bounty scandal, which Vilma denies. The league says his defamation lawsuit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and his suit against the league, are barred by federal law, which requires CBA disputes to be settled through the labor pact. However, Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, told SportsBusiness Journal, “Jonathan’s defamation lawsuit focuses exclusively on statements Mr. Goodell has made publicly and outside the confines of the CBA. Mr. Goodell, like all citizens, must abide by certain standards and laws.” He added, “Having the title of ‘Commissioner’ does not provide Mr. Goodell with a license to make the accusations and allegations he has made against Jonathan in public forums without facing the same scrutiny as other citizens.” Vilma amended his initial complaint against the NFL to take into account Goodell’s Tuesday denial of his appeal. He also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order on Thursday afternoon, seeking for the Louisiana federal court to block his suspension. The NFL and Goodell asked for an Aug. 1 hearing to argue that the lawsuits should be dismissed. The lawsuits filed by Vilma have been consolidated. Meanwhile, the NFLPA on Thursday also filed a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of the other three suspended players, Scott Fujita, Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove. The arguments are fairly similar: that the NFL relied on faulty evidence and did not offer a fair process. And as with Vilma’s now consolidated lawsuits, the NFL’s response is that federal labor law requires the disputes to be adjudicated through the CBA’s dispute resolution mechanisms.
Leagues and Governing Bodies
U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), as well as U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), have come out in support of the NFL owners’ recent decision to “let teams decide whether local TV broadcasters can air games if the stadium is at least 85 percent full,” according to Jennifer Martinez of THE HILL. Brown in a statement said the decision ensured “that all Bengals fans can root for the home team -- not just those who can afford tickets.” Blumenthal called the new policy “a step in the right direction.” Martinez noted it is now “up to individual clubs to decide what the seat threshold will be for local broadcasters to air the games.” Teams will have “to share more of their revenue with the NFL if they go over that set benchmark” (THEHILL.com, 7/3). A BUFFALO NEWS editorial stated Bills management “should look favorably on a rules change that could make television blackouts more infrequent.” The new rule is “a gift from football heaven for fans in Buffalo, but the Bills are hesitant, and perhaps not without reason.” If the team adopts the new policy, it will be “required to pay increased gate receipts into a leaguewide revenue pool.” The hit “could be several hundred thousand dollars per year.” Still, the “entire organization owes it to its supporters to do everything it reasonably can to implement this new program” (BUFFALO NEWS, 7/5). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote fans will now start to “expect teams to do whatever it takes to get the blackouts lifted.” Florio: “The details won’t matter. So what if the home team has to pick its percentage before the season begins? Who cares if the home team loses 16 cents on the dollar for every ticket sold above the selected minimum?” Fans should “look for more and more media in towns with teams that struggle to fill their stadiums to call upon the local football franchises to ensure that the new floor for ticket sales translates into televised contests” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 7/5).
BETTER TO STAY AT HOME? CBSSPORTS.com’s Mike Freeman cited several team execs as saying that “one of the motives behind the league's series of initiatives to make watching games in stadiums better for fans is the growing fear that technology at home will make watching games in stadiums obsolete.” What the NFL is doing is "smart,” and the move “makes total sense.” However, it “won't stop the inevitable,” as technology is “getting so good that one day (very soon) stadiums will be vastly less populated and the fan experience will mostly be limited to watching the game in HD, on a couch, roast beef sandwich in hand, no line for the bathroom, no traffic, no huge fees for tickets or parking.” Freeman: “In other words, technology and comfort will actually trump the excitement of being at a game” (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/5).
The NHL and NHLPA met for 2 hours and 40 minutes at the league offices in N.Y. Thursday, marking the "second formal bargaining session between the sides," according to Katie Strang of ESPN N.Y. NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "characterized the discussions as 'business-like' but declined to divulge details about the process." Fehr said, "When you're beginning negotiations, you need to have dialogue. You need to see what you have a common understanding about, what you need to flesh out, what you need to discuss further. We did some of that today." Fehr acknowledged another round of meetings were scheduled to take place Friday. The players "joining Fehr at the negotiating table" Thursday were Islanders C John Tavares, LW Matt Moulson and G Rick DiPietro, Canucks C Manny Malhotra, Rangers LW Ruslan Fedotenko, Kings RW Kevin Westgarth, Jets D Ron Hainsey and Blues RW B.J. Crombeen. Reports from the first session last Friday "indicated the NHL made its initial presentation about what has happened during the past seven years under the current CBA." It is "believed the NHLPA was supposed to make its presentation Thursday, but Fehr declined to confirm the procedural strategy" (ESPNNY.com, 7/5).
DOLLARS AND SENSE: In San Jose, David Pollak writes monster NHL contracts similar to those that free agents LW Zach Parise and D Ryan Suter signed with the Wild this week "underscore an issue that could stand between players and owners as they try to hammer out a new labor agreement this summer." Some franchises claim that those contracts -- with "huge signing bonuses up front and small money on the back end -- circumvent the intent of the salary cap." Closing what "some see as a major loophole is one of the many issues to be resolved before the Sept. 15 expiration of the current labor agreement" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 7/6). In Buffalo, Bucky Gleason wrote the "same owners who are expected to seek a large percentage in NHL revenue or take away guaranteed contracts are the ones signing fictional contracts front-loaded with ridiculous money." It needs to "be addressed in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement." The list is "long and laughable considering owners are circumventing the spirit on an agreement designed to save them from themselves" (BUFFALO NEWS, 7/5).
Goalline technology is "set to be introduced into English football as early as the new year after two systems were approved by the game's law-makers," according to the PA. The EPL will begin talks with Hawk-Eye and GoalRef "about bringing the technology in as soon as midway through the season and it could also be used for the coming season's FA Cup semi-finals and final." FIFA President Sepp Blatter "admitted he had changed his mind about goalline technology" after a disallowed goal during the Germany-England match during the '10 FIFA World Cup. The issue was "highlighted again when Ukraine were denied a goal against England in Euro 2012 despite the ball having clearly crossed the line." Blatter said that there would be "no move to introduce any video replays or other technology to rule on decisions such as offsides, fouls or diving" (PA, 7/5). FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that the organization "would pay for the installation of goalline technology ... for next summer's Confederation Cup in Brazil." The cost estimate for installing the technology is about US$388,000 per stadium (LONDON TIMES, 7/6).
LOGISTICS: In N.Y., Jack Bell notes the technology "will certainly arrive in time" for the '14 World Cup in Brazil. The decision to approve the goalline technology was a "landmark one for a sport that, unlike" the NFL, the NHL, the NBA and MLB, which have "been reluctant to tinker with rules or customs on the field." The Hawk-Eye system "has been used the past decade in cricket and most notably in major tennis tournaments." The system during soccer games "will employ six cameras at each goal to track the flight of the ball." Software is used to "triangulate the location of the ball, with an encrypted radio signal sent to a device worn by the referee if the entire ball crosses the goal line." The GoalRef technology "was tested in Danish league matches this past season." It uses a chip "embedded in the ball and sensors planted inside the goal posts and crossbar that emit electronic signals." Developers claim that GoalRef is "less expensive to install than Hawk-Eye" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/6).
Despite the failure of the WUSA and the WPS in the past decade, it appears it is "time to try again" to create a pro women's soccer league in the U.S., according to Amalie Benjamin of the BOSTON GLOBE. There was a “meeting in Chicago last week” that involved "former WPS owners, representatives from MLS, U.S. Soccer, and U.S. Youth Soccer, former players, former national team coach and WUSA commissioner Tony DiCicco, and representatives from the USL.” They discussed “logistics, finances, partnerships, a future,” as well as “managed expectations and modest hopes.” The options “have seemed twofold.” Either the women’s league “should be smaller, a league where players have other jobs and other ways of supporting themselves, or it should be attached to Major League Soccer.” But with MLS “not interested, it appears the first option is the way women’s soccer is headed.” The “likely result is a 12-16-team league built from franchises that already exist in semi-pro and pro-am leagues.” U.S. Soccer “seems likely to be a part, though the role is yet to be determined.” USSF President Sunil Gulati: “We’re absolutely willing to be actively involved in it in a way that makes sense for us, for the clubs and leagues that are involved, and the role that the federation has.” Former WPS Boston Breakers Managing Partner Michael Stoller said, “Both WUSA and WPS basically looked for a bunch of rich people to fund a start-up with a tremendous cost structure, not on the league level but on a team level, that wasn’t sustainable at that level. It was just too high a starting point.” Benjamin notes operating budgets in the new league "are expected to stay around $500,000 to $750,000, half of what some teams were losing per year in the WPS, with no salary cap.” Instead of the 5,000-8,000 fans WUSA expected, the "hope would be that the new league could draw maybe 2,000 per game.” Teams would play “in smaller venues with more manageable costs” (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/6).