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As lockout looms, NFL cities should be exploring their legal options

PaulBrownStadium200_861719g

A reader raised an interesting, but far-fetched, question with us on Sunday:  Should the fans look for a way to sue the NFL and the union to prevent a lockout?

As fans, we really don’t have any standing to tell the two sides to work out their differences.  Sure, fans have the ability to make their displeasure known publicly, but we have no legal right to attend or watch pro football games.

Then again, to the extent that most of the teams play in stadiums partially funded by taxpayers, perhaps we do.

Cities and states justify paying for the construction of football stadiums based on the express understanding that playing games will bring millions of dollars into the area during football season, boosting employment and tax dollars.  Last week, the NFLPA warned that a lost season would cause each community with a football team to lose $160 million.

The State of Maryland reportedly would lose $3.8 million in taxes from the sale of Ravens tickets alone, in the event of a canceled 2011 season.

And despite a looming lockout, the Bengals had no qualms about asking local officials to commit to spending $43 million for maintenance and repairs at Paul Brown Stadium over the next 10 years.

Our guess is that each NFL team loaded up the relevant leases and related documents with language permitting a work stoppage.  But with 32 teams, there’s a chance that one or more of the leases — and/or the laws of one or more of the states in which the NFL does business — contemplate that the free money for the construction of these stadiums carries with it an obligation to actually play the games.

We’re not saying that the league has liability to any of the cities or states in which publicly-funded stadiums were built.  But we are saying that the cities or states in which publicly-funded stadiums are situated should ask their lawyers to study the leases and any other documents relating to the construction of the local venue to determine whether a good-faith claim could be made for money damages in the event that the games aren’t played there this year, due to the NFL locking the doors.

Though the union has been banging the gong of collateral losses as a way to curry favor with the general public, the broader point is undeniable.  The game has grown to a point where many people not directly employed by the NFL or one of its teams will be affected by a lockout.  To the extent that teams finagled taxpayer money to build and maintain new stadiums that won’t be used if this mess lingers, the representatives of the taxpayers may have the ability to recoup some of those losses.

While the league likely would prefer that the lawyers employed by the various state and local governments focus on, you know, world peace, the NFL and its member teams have no qualms about filing lawsuits when they believe their legal rights have been violated.  If the rights of the governments and the people they represent are violated by an abandonment of the 2011 season, those governments have every right to seek fair and just compensation.

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33 Responses to “As lockout looms, NFL cities should be exploring their legal options”
  1. joepags says: Feb 14, 2011 8:51 AM

    regular season games missed, over/under 3 1/2

  2. clear2me says: Feb 14, 2011 8:58 AM

    A classic example of the adage ” every lawyer has been put on this earth to ensure that another lawyer finds work.”

  3. bison4me says: Feb 14, 2011 8:59 AM

    I for one don’t care if a state loses tax revenue from ticket sells. The way MD taxes us, it makes me almost want the damn lockout. Let the state eat cake for all I care.

  4. calloustongue says: Feb 14, 2011 9:01 AM

    More lawyers. Right, that’s always the answer.

  5. myspaceyourface says: Feb 14, 2011 9:03 AM

    I say they miss at least half the season. This hasn’t even gotten ugly yet and the deadline is 2 weeks away.

    It has to boil over before cooler heads prevail.

  6. chapnastier says: Feb 14, 2011 9:04 AM

    Can I sue local, state and federal politicians for spending my tax dollars on programs that I dislike? I mean their salary is based off of the idea that they will be representative of me and others. In the event that they are unable to unwilling to do the bidding of the people they could and should be sued to get back all tax dollars wasted. I mean that is applying the same, asinine logic.

  7. tdk24 says: Feb 14, 2011 9:06 AM

    To bad the fans didn’t boycott the superbowl this year. If they did I bet we wouldn’t be talking about a lockout today.

  8. nxsteven says: Feb 14, 2011 9:09 AM

    Interestingly enough, this is what Cromartie actually said when he was ranting about the union and the owners working out a deal.

    His last line was something like: It’s not about us, it’s about all the jobs that will be lost.

  9. east96st says: Feb 14, 2011 9:12 AM

    “If the rights of the governments and the people they represent are violated by an abandonment of the 2011 season, those governments have every right to seek fair and just compensation.”

    Sure beats the hell out of laying off cops and firemen to balance the state budget. I usually put lawyers between roaches and rats on the evolutionary scale, but in this case, sue away!!! Couldn’t happen to a nicer group of guys. I hope some state judge awards any city that sues millions.

  10. tiproast says: Feb 14, 2011 9:15 AM

    Money spent on football tickets is disposable income. Why couldn’t an NFL franchise argue that it’s likely that the fan would also spend this money something taxable, and that the state would still collect its taxes?

  11. mvp43 says: Feb 14, 2011 9:21 AM

    Well, there’s always the WNBA……

  12. stairwayto7 says: Feb 14, 2011 9:22 AM

    Get ready for a 9 game season wth no interconferance games.

  13. vtsquirm says: Feb 14, 2011 9:25 AM

    This entire situation doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve heard the league can simply make a “best offer” to the players and say play under these terms or don’t play–not sure if the union has to decertify or not for this to happen. I guess they are afraid that they’ll play temporarily and strike at any point moving forward?

    I want to know if i’m going to have to draft replacement players in my fantasy league. These are important questions!

  14. joe6606 says: Feb 14, 2011 9:26 AM

    Your status as a tax payer doesn’t give you standing to sue. This has been decided countless times in the courts.

    If a lawsuit were to be filed, it would have to be from the city, and even then I’m pretty sure most courts would find that the city doesn’t have standing either.

  15. mikebrownmakesmefrown says: Feb 14, 2011 9:27 AM

    Isn’t Cincinnati beautiful?

  16. shiftyshellshocked says: Feb 14, 2011 9:28 AM

    this is really helping the vikes get there new stadium. if it weren’t for bad luck we’d have no luck at all. skol.

  17. justthepeanutgallery says: Feb 14, 2011 9:30 AM

    If Government officials had even the slightest inclination that they could sue the NFL, that flag would have been raised. It would be fantastic exposure to their constituency stating how they are just looking out for the little guy.

  18. wtfru2 says: Feb 14, 2011 9:30 AM

    How about Las Vegas suing for loss of betting revenue? Don’t we gamblers have any rights?

  19. realitypolice says: Feb 14, 2011 9:38 AM

    Our guess is that each NFL team loaded up the relevant leases and related documents with language permitting a work stoppage. But with 32 teams, there’s a chance that one or more of the leases — and/or the laws of one or more of the states in which the NFL does business — contemplate that the free money for the construction of these stadiums carries with it an obligation to actually play the games.
    ================================

    You should have stopped after the first sentence. I guarantee you that NO lease for ANY of the teams contains language that holds them liable for lost revenues in the event of a lockout/strike.

    In fact, I am quite certain that EVERY lease contains specific language indemnifying teams from ANY liability in this case.

    When are you going to get it through your head that the NFL has the best lawyers in the world.

    You, on the other hand, are NOT the best former in the world. You should assume that any possible legal situation you could possibly think of has been covered a long time ago by lawyers who actually know what they’re doing.

  20. realitypolice says: Feb 14, 2011 9:40 AM

    *former lawyer* I meant. I hate it when I skip words.

  21. marvsleezy says: Feb 14, 2011 9:45 AM

    What specifically prevents the players from starting their own league??

  22. lilevil74 says: Feb 14, 2011 9:48 AM

    When you pay for goods and don’t receive said goods, isn’t that theft? Or deceptive practices at the least? Tax payers pay a lot of money to watch NFL football in their respective states. In the event of a lockout, is each affected state going to cut the taxes paid towards watching the NFL? ABSOLUTELY NOT. And when they don’t class action suits against the state should be forthcoming. Those law suits would be a lot more interesting than “I didn’t get to sit in my correct seat and now I think I should get a million dollars” Super Bowl law suits. Just saying

  23. shrike58 says: Feb 14, 2011 9:51 AM

    Again, I have two words for the owners and the players: binding arbitration.

    That the TV networks and the municipalities allow themselves to be dicked over by this bunch of aging blowhards with delusions of grandeur would be funny if it wasn’t pathetic. Actually, it’s both

    You know that the players would be rolling over and playing dead if the owners were really unified.

    If the season does wind up being lost the relevant associations of mayors and governors ought to be holding Congress’s feet to the fire to prevent this sort of travestry from happening again.

    If you get monopoly protection you get regulation.

  24. zimaman says: Feb 14, 2011 9:51 AM

    actually, I would like to see the owners make there best offer and if it is declined bring in replacement players and play the games.

    did you ever go to a minor league ball game, AHL, Arena, christ little league.

    I have had just as much fun at these other venues as I have had in most NFL games I attended.

    would the quality of play suffer, yes, but not as much as you would think.

  25. FoozieGrooler says: Feb 14, 2011 9:53 AM

    Dan Rooney – you need to tell Obama “Thanks but no thanks” on the ambassadorship to Ireland, and get your ass back here, like right now.

    You’re probably the last remaining “voice of reason” still alive in this league.

    The Jones’ and the Richardsons of this league are threatening to destroy the success that you and the rest of the original old-timers built.

  26. skoobyfl says: Feb 14, 2011 10:20 AM

    Do like the Romans.

  27. mackenzie83 says: Feb 14, 2011 10:59 AM

    I really think that the states, cities, and fans should at least try to really voice their displeasure. Its on moral grounds that people need to do this. Fat cats and fat lineman fighting like this over a money pie that is not a reality in the first place is stupid. Yes the league brings in 9 billion but that’s not going to always stay that way. the league and the union are not immune to what is going on here. I for one and getting pretty damn tired of this. Its like two teenage girls fighting over a boy. “Its mine.” “No its mine.” GROW THE HECK UP.

  28. armchairgm9 says: Feb 14, 2011 11:02 AM

    I’m all for taking away any funding for both sides to create a sense of urgency.

  29. shrike58 says: Feb 14, 2011 11:10 AM

    If the teams were run more like normal joint-stock corporations rather than the toys of spoiled children it would be helpful.

    Say we’re not all dust floating in the stratosphere in forty years time this whole last twenty years of big-time sports (and trust me, I do like big-time sports) is going to look insane for the resources that were thrown at it.

  30. wallyhorse says: Feb 14, 2011 11:45 AM

    Cities will be losing considerable money if there is a lockout, especially revenue from hotel stays related to the games along with other matters related to those. Even more so would be in cases where teams lose a game that has a huge traveling fan base that will go to such games in question. No matter what the sport, this is true, however, it’s even more so in the NFL than any other sport.

  31. NoHomeTeam says: Feb 14, 2011 2:57 PM

    bison4me says: I for one don’t care if a state loses tax revenue from ticket sells. The way MD taxes us, it makes me almost want the damn lockout. Let the state eat cake for all I care.

    So . . . you don’t care if the stadium that you helped pay for as a taxpayer repays that debt to you in the form of public works like police, fire, snow removal, etc? Really? Do you want to think about your statement a little bit? The lockout and subsequent failure to generate revenue doesn’t just effect a nebulous entity called The State — it affects you. To borrow your (apocryphal) historical reference, you are the rabble who are supposed to eat cake, because you have no bread.

    tiproast says: Money spent on football tickets is disposable income. Why couldn’t an NFL franchise argue that it’s likely that the fan would also spend this money something taxable, and that the state would still collect its taxes?

    Because then NFL franchises would have a pretty difficult time using the argument that an NFL team provides a tangible financial benefit to a city or state the next time they want a city or a state to contribute to the building of a shiny new stadium.

    realitypolice says: You should have stopped after the first sentence. I guarantee you that NO lease for ANY of the teams contains language that holds them liable for lost revenues in the event of a lockout/strike . . . In fact, I am quite certain that EVERY lease contains specific language indemnifying teams from ANY liability in this case . . . You, on the other hand, are NOT the best former [sic] in the world. You should assume that any possible legal situation you could possibly think of has been covered a long time ago by lawyers who actually know what they’re doing . . . *former lawyer* I meant. I hate it when I skip words.

    I’ll bet the “best lawyers in the world” hate it when they skip words, too. Especially in things like stadium leases.

  32. the1vito says: Feb 14, 2011 3:04 PM

    If a local government does have a valid claim for lost revenue, I would see the problem being that the claim could not be brought until games are actually missed (although what about teams that use colleges to hold their training camps, how much do they pay those schools to rent the facilities?). Until there is a missed game, any claim would probably only be illusory because those local governments, merchants, etc. wouldn’t suffer any damages until the games are missed. Once the games are missed, it would be interesting to see if there would be any valid claims for lost revenues, and with the way teams hold local governments hostage when it comes to building stadiums, I think every effort should be made to recoup those losses. It’s just that, at this point, it would only be a threat as far as I can see.

  33. bison4me says: Feb 14, 2011 3:38 PM

    NoHomeTeam says:
    Feb 14, 2011 2:57 PM
    bison4me says: I for one don’t care if a state loses tax revenue from ticket sells. The way MD taxes us, it makes me almost want the damn lockout. Let the state eat cake for all I care.

    So . . . you don’t care if the stadium that you helped pay for as a taxpayer repays that debt to you in the form of public works like police, fire, snow removal, etc? Really? Do you want to think about your statement a little bit? The lockout and subsequent failure to generate revenue doesn’t just effect a nebulous entity called The State — it affects you. To borrow your (apocryphal) historical reference, you are the rabble who are supposed to eat cake, because you have no bread.
    ===================================
    NoHomeTeam, read much? Marylanders have been paying for public works from taxes, long before the Ravens, Redskins, or Colts came to the state so a lockout is not going to affect me any different than if there wasn’t one. Taxes will always be in place. They will rise if there is or isn’t football. New taxes will be created if there is or isn’t football. Instead of relying on a sport for a revenue stream, local governments around the country should cut its spending, how is this or my earlier comment hard to grasp? And you are very naive if you believe that the money taxpayers shell for these stadiums actually do come back to them.

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