As lockout looms, NFL cities should be exploring their legal options
A reader raised an interesting, but far-fetched, question with us on Sunday: Should the fans look for a way to sue the NFL and the union to prevent a lockout?
As fans, we really don’t have any standing to tell the two sides to work out their differences. Sure, fans have the ability to make their displeasure known publicly, but we have no legal right to attend or watch pro football games.
Then again, to the extent that most of the teams play in stadiums partially funded by taxpayers, perhaps we do.
Cities and states justify paying for the construction of football stadiums based on the express understanding that playing games will bring millions of dollars into the area during football season, boosting employment and tax dollars. Last week, the NFLPA warned that a lost season would cause each community with a football team to lose $160 million.
The State of Maryland reportedly would lose $3.8 million in taxes from the sale of Ravens tickets alone, in the event of a canceled 2011 season.
And despite a looming lockout, the Bengals had no qualms about asking local officials to commit to spending $43 million for maintenance and repairs at Paul Brown Stadium over the next 10 years.
Our guess is that each NFL team loaded up the relevant leases and related documents with language permitting a work stoppage. But with 32 teams, there’s a chance that one or more of the leases -- and/or the laws of one or more of the states in which the NFL does business -- contemplate that the free money for the construction of these stadiums carries with it an obligation to actually play the games.
We’re not saying that the league has liability to any of the cities or states in which publicly-funded stadiums were built. But we are saying that the cities or states in which publicly-funded stadiums are situated should ask their lawyers to study the leases and any other documents relating to the construction of the local venue to determine whether a good-faith claim could be made for money damages in the event that the games aren’t played there this year, due to the NFL locking the doors.
Though the union has been banging the gong of collateral losses as a way to curry favor with the general public, the broader point is undeniable. The game has grown to a point where many people not directly employed by the NFL or one of its teams will be affected by a lockout. To the extent that teams finagled taxpayer money to build and maintain new stadiums that won’t be used if this mess lingers, the representatives of the taxpayers may have the ability to recoup some of those losses.
While the league likely would prefer that the lawyers employed by the various state and local governments focus on, you know, world peace, the NFL and its member teams have no qualms about filing lawsuits when they believe their legal rights have been violated. If the rights of the governments and the people they represent are violated by an abandonment of the 2011 season, those governments have every right to seek fair and just compensation.