NFLPA seeks to have licensing verdict overturned

Executives for the NFL Players Association will ask a judge to overturn a $28.1 million verdict a federal jury ordered the union to pay to more than 2,000 of its retired players.

The jury said the union owed the retirees $7.1 million in actual damages for failing to include them in marketing deals with EA Sports, trading card companies and other licensees. Punitive damages pushed the verdict to $28.1 million. Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley filed the lawsuit last year on behalf of 2,056 retired players who alleged the union failed to actively pursue marketing deals on their behalf with video games, trading cards and others products.

Should the $28.1 million award stand, each retired player in the lawsuit would receive about $10,000 after lawyer fees.  “It’s an unjust verdict and we are confident it will be overturned,’’ NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler said.

Lawyers representing Adderley and the retired players told the jury during the three-week trial that the union actively sought to cut them out of licensing deals so active players could receive bigger royalty payments. The retirees pointed to a 2001 letter from an NFLPA executive telling executives at EA Sports to scramble the images of retired players in the company’s popular Madden video game, otherwise the company would have to pay them. Only active players received a cut of the EA deal, the union’s largest, which surpassed $35 million for 2008.

Kessler unsuccessfully urged the jury to award far less, arguing the union could suffer economic harm if it had to pay a large amount. “It was the only sports union that tried to do retired players licensing deals,’’ Kessler said.

The retirees claimed the language of the contracts entitled them to an equal share of all revenue from group-licensing deals, but said they didn’t get any share, apart from a few scattered payments. The union argued the contracts promised only a share of any money the retirees generated as a group, which was zero, because licensees such as the card companies and video game makers paid licensing fees exclusively for active players.
If the award is not overturned, the union says it will file an appeal. “It is significant that the jury did not buy the retired players’ claim that they were entitled to an equal share of the active players’ group licensing money, which was the principal claim in the case,” a statement from the union said.

“If the retired players had prevailed on that claim, their claimed damages would have been close to $90 million as opposed to the $7.1 million awarded.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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