CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and DirecTV will no longer have to pay rights fees to the NFL in the event the football league goes through a work stoppage, according to a U.S. District Court ruling Tuesday.
Rights fees from the NFL TV rights holders, which total more than $4 billion annually, were contractually scheduled to be paid to the league even if the current labor dispute with the NFL Players Association caused the cancelation of games. All the networks (except DirecTV) were eventually due refunds, but the timetable for rebates was a loose one.
However, U.S. District Judge David S. Doty overruled a special master’s Feb. 1 decision preserving those payments, saying in essence that the NFL was not permitted to essentially fail to maximize revenues in the seasons leading up to the potential work stoppage as a means to strengthen its own negotiating position.
“This ruling means there is irrefutable evidence that owners had a premeditated plan to lockout players and fans for more than two years,” the NFL PA said in a statement.
From the network perspective, not only are they for the time being spared paying for games that won’t be played, the chance the games will be played has theoretically increased, now that the NFL has arguably more incentive to settle with the players.
However, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press that “today’s ruling will have no effect on our efforts to negotiate a new, balanced labor agreement.”
The NFL is by far the most-watched sport on U.S. television; “Sunday Night Football,” for example, is NBC’s highest-rated program in all of primetime.