NFL to judge: Don’t unseal TV contract case info
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The NFL asked a federal judge Wednesday to deny the players’ union bid to release details in a $4 billion TV revenue dispute, saying information should be kept confidential because it is commercially sensitive.
Two weeks ago, U.S. District Court Judge David Doty ruled – rejecting a special master’s previous decision – that the NFL illegally secured the money from TV contracts for 2011, money the players contend was arranged to fund a lockout.
A week ago, the union requested that all exhibits, testimony and transcripts be unsealed.
The league filed its response and included redacted versions of exhibits cited in Doty’s decision totaling more than 800 pages. Much of the information was blacked out to protect information the NFL considers sensitive, harmful to future negotiations if revealed and damaging to business relations.
“Unsealing these documents would reveal to entities with whom we have, may have, or seek to have commercial relationships our internal thought processes relating to television programming and digital rights,” Brian Rolapp, chief operating officer for NFL Media, wrote in his declaration of support filed with the league’s request.
League lawyers, however, argue that the court’s previous denial of local media’s request to unseal all the documents should apply to the union’s request as well to satisfy the public’s right to know and to provide context that “will be the basis for rulings to come.”
The NFL’s argument cited Doty’s suggestion in court to Paul Hannah, an attorney representing the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Star Tribune of Minneapolis in the Feb. 24 hearing, that the papers “try to focus on what it is that they are looking for” rather than making a sweeping request for all the information.
The NFL wrote that the complication of mentioning “a few lines or even a few pages” in court about the confidential material “is not a ground to unseal the entire exhibit.” The league also cited the volume of the evidence – some 12,000 pages – as another reason not to order an across-the-board unsealing.
Included in the redacted exhibits is Dec. 21, 2010, testimony from commissioner Roger Goodell, arguing the NFL had the best interests of the league and the players in mind during the last round of negotiations to ensure healthy levels of revenue in the long term.
The union, however, contends that the contracts were devised to create a lockout war chest. In response, Goodell testified: “We had no such intent. We entered into these arrangements principally to extend and secure revenue streams that, in my view, were and continue to be necessary for the stability and financial health of the League.”
Goodell also argued that the contract extensions were necessary to keep the league out of danger of going into debt, which he said would be “enormous leverage” for the players in collective bargaining. The commissioner also said the union never previously requested consultation about TV rights fees and never before objected about not being consulted.
The exhibits include slides prepared for NFL owners and league officials with statements the union contends prove the TV deals were renegotiated to fund a lockout.
In October 2008, a slide labeled “Key Considerations Related to NFL Labor Situation” asks whether it would be better to have media deals in place or still uncertain during CBA negotiations and suggests “Elimination of risk may embolden NFLPA’s $$$ demands.”
A few months later, in March 2009, another slide prepped for a meeting says new TV deals would provide “leverage in negotiations … no ‘hold up’ value for union.”
Also included in the redacted documents is an NFL decision tree that Doty cited in his decision, a chart-style memo that asks: “Should League Move Forward With Deal?”
The arrows show that if the answer is yes, then the question “Does CBA Framework Drive Decision?” comes up. According to the chart, if the answer to that is yes, then the solution is to “potentially Hold Until New CBA in Place.”
It then cites examples of that scenario, which might include: stadiums (mentioning Minnesota and San Francisco), Los Angeles (the market in which the league would like to place a team), and season restructuring (presumably the possibility of an 18-game regular season).
The NFL also included a congratulatory letter – dated May 27, 2009 – from NFLPA boss DeMaurice Smith to Goodell after deals were done with CBS, Fox and Comcast.
“On behalf of the players I applaud your efforts. Despite the economy, the news continues to be positive regarding the NFL’s financial future,” wrote Smith, who also asked for copies of the new contracts to review for an upcoming bargaining session.
A year later, the mood had clearly soured. Jeff Pash, the NFL’s lead labor negotiator, wrote to NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen and criticizes the union for taking gripes public.
“No one understands the costs of an NFL work stoppage better than the NFL clubs, and no one is more committed to reaching agreement on a new CBA than the NFL owners,” he wrote.