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NFLPA: TV deal intended to benefit owners during possible lockout

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The NFL Players Association filed a complaint Wednesday, claiming that the language in the league's television contracts acts as a form of lockout protection for team owners, guaranteeing them revenues even if football isn't played in 2011.

The league has long countered that the language in its TV deals is standard and has long been the same. The league also has said that failure to play games would force it to reimburse the TV networks, regardless.

The complaint was sent to the special master who oversees disputes between the union and the league. The union would like the $4 billion in TV money put in escrow until a new collective bargaining agreeement is finalized.

The current labor deal expires in March, possibly leading to a work stoppage during the 2011 season.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith pointed to the league allowing DirecTV, for instance, to own rights to broadcast games over the Internet, carry NFL RedZone and sell NFL products over mobile phones as evidence of not maximizing all revenues in TV deals. Smith and NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler referenced a 1993 settlement binding the league to maximize revenues during this CBA and to operate "in good faith" to carry out the terms of the deal. They suggested that the nature of the TV contracts might violate those tenets.

"If it is the case that networks have obtained digital rights or other media rights for free in exchange for a promise that the full (TV) funds be available to teams even if games are not played necessarily means they left revenue on the table," Smith said during a conference call. "If there are facts from which a reasonable person can conclude they undertook these agreements with the idea of gaining bargaining advantages, the players would argue that would specifically be in violation."

When asked about the league's contention that the contract language is unchanged and money the networks lost through a lockout would have to be repaid, Smith replied: "We'll find out in discovery."

The NFL responded to the union's complaint with the following statement: "The television contracts that the union attacked today were agreed to during the worst economy in our lifetimes. Far from failing to maximize revenue, the contracts grew league revenue to fund higher player salaries and benefits. No wonder DeMaurice Smith said publicly this year, 'My hat's off to Roger Goodell. Television is locked up until 2014 to the tune of about $5 billion a year.' The union's meritless charges, including many inaccuracies, will be addressed in the proper forum, but they are simply a distraction and do nothing to get us any closer to a new CBA."

In an interview with Sports Business Journal, published on March 29, longtime NBC executive Dick Ebersol said of the guaranteed provision in the TV deals: "I have been around longer than anybody else, and I don't remember a deal, certainly all the way back to the early 1980s, that this wasn't in. This is not a new development." League counsel Jeff Pash has said that in the event games were cancelled, the league would have to repay the networks.

For more labor news, visit http://www.nfllabor.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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