Special master rules on '11 TV contracts
DALLAS -- The NFL gets to cash its $4 billion in TV checks.
The union gets about $7 million in damages from the league.
Both sides claimed victory Tuesday after a special master ruled on the NFL Players Association's complaint that the league improperly negotiated TV contracts, part of legal maneuverings connected to negotiations for a new labor deal.
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The NFL pointed out that Stephen Burbank rejected the union's request that billions in 2011 payments from the networks to the league should be placed in escrow if there is a lockout.
The union, meanwhile, noted in a statement that Burbank awarded it damages because of violations in "the NFL's negotiation of lockout insurance in its contracts with ESPN and NBC." Union spokesman George Atallah said he didn't know the amount the NFL was ordered to pay.
A person familiar with Tuesday's ruling told The Associated Press that the union sought about $60 million in damages and was awarded $6.9 million. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Burbank's ruling is under seal.
The current collective bargaining agreement expires in early March, and the union expects owners to lock out the players.
The union accused the NFL of structuring TV contracts so owners would be guaranteed money even if there were a lockout in 2011 -- while not getting the most revenue possible in other seasons, when income would need to be shared with players. The union argued this violated an agreement between the sides that says the NFL must make good-faith efforts to maximize revenue for players.
The union wanted the $4 billion in TV revenue for 2011 to be set aside, while the NFL said its TV contracts normally protect the league against the possibility games might be lost.
Spokesmen for ESPN and NBC declined comment.
The union's statement said that "although the special master awarded damages, the players intend to file an immediate and expedited appeal before" U.S. District Court judge David Doty, who has jurisdiction over NFL labor matters.
An NFL statement said Burbank "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."
The league added: "As we have said all along, a new CBA has to be hammered out at the negotiating table, not in the courtroom. If the union commits to invest as much time, energy and other resources in negotiations as it has in its litigation strategy, a new agreement could well be reached by March 4."
Last month, the union filed a separate case before Burbank, accusing teams of conspiring to restrict players' salaries during the last offseason.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press
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