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NFFC lawsuit claims NFL approved convention before scrapping it


The National Football League faces a new lawsuit regarding the manner in which the plug was pulled on the National Fantasy Football Convention, an event sponsored in part by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. The league likely will try to get the plug pulled on the lawsuit as early as possible in the litigation process, but it may not be easy.

PFT has obtained a copy of the lawsuit, and it alleges that the NFL initially approved the involvement of NFL Media fantasy football expert Michael Fabiano. The lawsuit also contends that Dylan Milner, the Senior Producer of NFL Fantasy Live on NFL Network, contacted the NFFC and asked that the league receive a chance to participate in the event. Milner allegedly asked that NFL Fantasy Live personnel have an opportunity to speak on panels at the event.

The league’s attitude changed in early June, according to the lawsuit. That’s when the league allegedly “began to threaten and harass players who had committed to appear,” ultimately inducing a breach of the contracts the players had signed to participate in the event.

Both the NFL and the NFL Players Association began getting the word out to players about the potential violation of the league’s gambling policy, and Fabiano advised the NFFC via an “emotional call” that the NFL had “forc[ed] him to back out of the event or risk losing his job.”

As expected, the lawsuit claims that the gambling policy doesn’t apply to a convention center at which gambling doesn’t occur, arguing that the league’s policy is ambiguous -- and that the ambiguity should be construed against the NFL because of the prior positions the NFL took in relation to the NFFC.

Adding to that notion are the examples cited in the lawsuit of other situations in which the NFL looks the other way when it comes to gambling, such as the holding of Saints training camp at The Greenbrier, which has a 103,000-square-foot casino on the property. Also, the complaint points to the proliferation of team deals with FanDuel (then again, fantasy football for money isn’t gambling because Congress says it isn’t), the partnership between the Lions and MGM Grand Detroit, the promotion of safety Devin McCourty’s “casino night” on the Patriots’ website in October 2014, the hosting of a party cruise by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on the Norwegian Cruise Line, which allows the attendees to utilize Norwegian’s “Casinos at Sea,” and the NFL’s decision to allow another fantasy football event to proceed in Las Vegas on July 17, even though Jets receiver Brandon Marshall serves on the “advisory board.”

The lawsuit argues that the NFL illegally interfered with the contractual relationships between the NFFC and the players who had committed to appear, justifying the payment of damages exceeding $1 million.

So why did the league do it? According to the lawsuit, the NFL “recogniz[ed] the commercial opportunities available to the NFFC, [and] likely decided to kill Tony Romo’s effort so that it could replace it with one of its own.”

“In doing business with the NFL,” the lawsuit contends, “‘the house always wins.’”

Of course, the house doesn’t always win in court. And the house could lose this one, big.