NFL is entitled to TV payments during work stoppage
By Mark Maske
UPDATED (7:45 p.m.)...
DALLAS--The NFL is entitled to rights-fee payments from television networks during a work stoppage, according to a ruling by the sport's special master, the league announced Tuesday.
The payments would provide the NFL's franchise owners with about $4 billion in revenue next season even if they lock out players after their collective bargaining agreement expires in early March. NFL officials have said that any payments from the networks to the league during a work stoppage eventually would have to be repaid.
The players' union had filed a complaint with the special master, University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephen Burbank, challenging the structure of the league's TV contracts. The union contended that the money provides the owners with what amounts to a lockout fund because payments must be made during a work stoppage.
The league issued a written statement Tuesday that said: "The Special Master squarely rejected the union's demand that the NFL be denied access to payments that the league's television partners are obligated to make for the 2011 season. We understand that the union intends to appeal the Special Master's decision, but we are confident that his detailed ruling on this issue will be affirmed. Now it's time to get back to the bargaining table."
Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of public relations, said in a written statement that "the union spent twice as much on the case than it was awarded in damages, which were a small fraction of TV revenue contracted for 2011."
One source familiar with the case, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss Burbank's ruling publicly, said the union was awarded $6.9 million in damages as a result of the timing of certain rights-fee payments by the TV networks to the league. According to the source, the union had contended in its case that the league gave away certain 2009 and 2010 rights to the networks with no consideration in return, and the union had sought approximately $60 million in damages in addition to attempting to prevent the NFL from accessing about $4 billion in TV rights fees in 2011.
The union also claimed a measure of victory in Burbank's ruling but acknowledged its plan to appeal.
It issued a written statement that said: "The Special Master, who is appointed by a federal judge, found violations... with respect to the NFL's negotiation of Lockout Insurance in its contracts with ESPN and NBC.
"Although the Special Master awarded damages, the players intend to file an immediate and expedited appeal before the federal court in Minnesota."
Burbank is in charge of resolving disputes between the league and union that arise from their collective bargaining agreement. Any ruling by Burbank can be appealed to Minneapolis-based U.S. District Judge David S. Doty, who oversees the sport's labor deal.
The union has filed a separate case with Burbank that alleges collusion by owners. That case has not been resolved. It accuses teams of improperly colluding last offseason to restrict players' salaries.
The labor deal between the owners and players expires in March. Players and union officials have said they expect the owners to lock out players after the agreement expires. Representatives of the two sides are scheduled to meet Saturday in the Dallas area for their first full bargaining session since before Thanksgiving.
February 1, 2011; 6:28 PM ET
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