NFL players ask for $707M in damages in TV dispute

The NFL’s locked-out players asked a federal judge Thursday for at least $707 million in damages stemming from a dispute with the league over $4 billion in broadcast revenue.

U.S. District Judge David Doty took the request under advisement after a two-hour hearing that included arguments from attorneys for the league and the players. Such an award could amount to a huge piece of leverage in the players’ fight with the NFL over the next collective bargaining agreement.

Jeffrey Kessler, the lead attorney for the players, urged Doty to rule quickly because of the ongoing lockout. The players have argued the league can make it through the lockout in part because it illegally secured the $4 billion “war chest” by renegotiating TV contracts for 2011 that allows the league to get paid even if there are no games to televise.

Doty ruled March 1, 10 days before the lockout began, that the NFL failed to maximize revenues for the players in those negotiations, essentially leaving money on the table for the last two years to gain leverage in the labor fight.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered the lockout lifted April 25 because it is irreparably harming the players and their careers, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put the order on hold pending a June 3 hearing in St. Louis.

Doty began the hearing by chiding both sides for their inability to reach an agreement and achieve labor peace to ensure a 2011 season.

“I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t think we would have this hearing, and I’m a bit disappointed we are having it,” Doty said.

None of the team owners or high-ranking league officials attended the hearing. NFL players Ben Leber, Chester Pitts and Steve Smith were among those accompanying the lawyers on their side.