NFL to judge: Don't unseal TV contract case info

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 5:04 AM

MINNEAPOLIS -- 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.

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