NFL Players Union Files Complaint Against Owners Over $4 Billion TV Deals

The National Football League Players union filed a complaint against team owners today claiming the league unfairly negotiated $4 billion in television contracts that ensure the NFL will be paid even if there are no games due to a labor dispute.

NFL owners knowingly took less money for some broadcast rights at the expense of the players, who share league revenue, said union attorney Jeffrey Kessler. The union’s claims include that the NFL delayed getting increased revenue from a DirecTV contract from the 2009 and 2010 seasons until 2011 and beyond, after its current contract with the players expires.

“So DirecTV was given immediate new broadcast benefits for two seasons with no price increase,” Kessler said in a media conference call. The immediate benefit, he said, is access to a new football channel and the right to sell access to broadband and mobile phone transmission of games.

The NFL and players union are in the final year of the labor contract and are scheduled to have further negotiations later this month.

The NFL said in a statement that the new agreement was negotiated during the “worst economy of our lifetimes.”

“Far from failing to maximize revenue, the contracts grew league revenue to fund higher player salaries and benefits,” the league said.

DirecTV representatives didn’t immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.

The union said the NFL television contracts with News Corp.’s Fox, CBS Corp., General Electric Co.’s NBC, Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN and DirecTV account for about half of the NFL’s approximately $8 billion in revenue.

Domonique Foxworth, a Baltimore Ravens defensive back and member of the union’s executive committee, said the NFL’s actions don’t seem fair.

“We assume we are going in this business relationship together and on this ledge together to try to come to some sort of agreement,” Foxworth said on a conference call. “But it seems that they have a $4 billion net underneath them and we have nothing to protect us. So it makes us very nervous.”

The case will be heard by Special Master Stephen Burbank, who is charged with resolving disputes about the NFL’s labor agreement. Appeals will be heard by Judge David Doty, who has overseen the NFL labor contract since 1993.

To contact the reporter on this story: Curtis Eichelberger in Washington at ceichelberge@bloomberg.net

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