Star Tribune, Pioneer Press seek to unseal papers in NFL case

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 23, 2011 - 6:29 AM

At issue is a special master's report, and other papers, regarding NFL TV revenues and a threatened lockout.

The Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press are trying to get into the game -- or at least into the courtroom -- in a battle between the NFL and its players association over money paid to the league by television networks.

Saying "the public's right to know what goes on in its courthouses is a fundamental right," the news organizations filed motions in federal court Tuesday to unseal documents filed as "confidential" in the case.

"Indeed, the public's interest in this case is particularly compelling, given the economic significance of professional football and national impact on many levels of professional sports in general and professional football in particular," the news organizations said.

The NFLPA, too, has filed a motion seeking to unseal a special master's report. The hearing on that motion is scheduled for Thursday, before U.S. District Judge David Doty. The appeal followed the special master's Feb. 2 ruling regarding the NFLPA's complaint that the league improperly negotiated TV contracts worth billions.

Stephen Burbank's ruling had both the league and the players claiming victory.

The NFL gets to cash $4 billion in TV checks. The union gets about $7 million in damages from the league.

The NFL pointed out that Burbank rejected the union's request that billions in 2011 payments from the networks to the league be placed in escrow if there is a lockout.

But the union noted that Burbank awarded it damages because of violations in "the NFL's negotiation of lockout insurance in its contracts with ESPN and NBC."

A person familiar with the ruling told the Associated Press that the union sought about $60 million in damages and was awarded $6.9 million. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because Burbank's ruling is under seal. It is that seal that the union and the newspapers are asking be lifted.

In fact, according to motions filed by the newspapers, just about everything filed in the case is sealed from public view -- as per the terms of an agreement between the union and league that allowed any party to designate as "confidential" any document "that it in good faith contends to constitute or contain trade secrets or other confidential information."

In a response filed Tuesday afternoon, the NFL said it was not against unsealing redacted" versions of the special master's report and union objections.

The fight over television revenues is central to the question of whether the coming season will be played. The current collective bargaining agreement expires in early March, and union leaders say they expect owners to lock out the players.

The union filed its appeal to Doty last week.

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