Sports Law Roundup – 1/20/2017

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • Hockey head injuries: In a discovery dispute in a case between the NHL and over one hundred former players alleging that the league knew or should have known that concussions can lead to CTE, the NHL filed a motion seeking a court order compelling Boston University’s CTE Center to turn over research documents the former players say constitute evidence supporting their claims. Thus far, BU, which “maintains what it calls the largest brain repository in the world dedicated to the study of CTE,” had refused to provide the league with the requested information on confidentiality grounds.
  • Atlanta Braves Community Fund: A lawsuit alleges that, since at least 2010, the Atlanta Braves have failed to make adequate payments to a nonprofit entity known as the Community Fund as required under the team’s contract with the city (technically the City of Atlanta and Fulton County Recreation Authority) for Turner Field. That contract required the Braves to pay specified shares of revenue from both baseball and non-baseball events at Turner Field to the Community Fund, which now claims that the team underpaid in violation of that contract. The Braves played their final game ever at Turner Field last October.
  • Beatles’ declaration worth many pennies: Since we’re thin on sports law stories this week and sometimes cover music on this site, here included is comment on Paul McCartney’s recent lawsuit seeking a declaration that his prior exercise of certain rights under copyright law will not cause a breach of publishing agreements with Sony. McCartney is hoping to gain control of the rights to songs he wrote prior to 1978 but fears retribution from Sony, which could not provide “clear assurances he won’t face contract troubles for taking back his songs.”

Sports court is in recess.

Daily fantasy sports site argues that DFS is illegal in attempt to escape advertising contract

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Draft Ops was a daily fantasy sports (“DFS”) website, like FanDuel and DraftKings, that used to be the “official fantasy partner” of a number of sports teams and media outlets, including the Minnesota Wild. Last spring, the Wild sued Draft Ops, alleging that the site owed the team $1.1 million pursuant to an agreement that allowed Draft Ops to use the Wild’s name and logo in advertising materials.

In a creative, if risky, attempt to avoid its contractual obligations to the Wild, Draft Ops argued that the agreement was void because, it further argued, DFS constituted illegal gambling in Minnesota. After years of litigation and lobbying by DFS operators to expand and protect the legality of their enterprise, it is fairly remarkable to see a DFS site argue that its business is illegal.

On the other hand, if any DFS site was going to turn state’s evidence, it makes sense it’d be one like Draft Ops, which appears to be out of business, filed for bankruptcy last week, and is more concerned about how it’s going to make good on the $1.1 million it allegedly owes the Wild than it is about the ongoing viability of the business model.

Draft Ops hit a roadblock in the Minnesota case last week, though, when the judge allowed the case to proceed, explaining that it was not clear that DFS was illegal under Minnesota law, and that, even if DFS clearly was illegal in the state, there still could be grounds on which the court could enforce the contract, which, the judge noted, was a sponsorship and advertising contract, not a gambling contract.

If this strategy sounds familiar, that’s because it essentially is the same one people who lost money playing DFS tried in lawsuits they filed against the DFS sites themselves last year.

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Related
DraftKings and FanDuel finally announce inevitable merger agreement
Lose money playing DraftKings or FanDuel? File a lawsuit.

Sports Law Roundup – 12/9/2016

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I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from the past week:

  • College football defamation: On Thursday, former Baylor head football coach Art Briles sued three Baylor regents and the university’s senior vice president and CEO claiming that they defamed him by stating that he had knowledge of sex crimes reportedly committed by his players and failed to provide that information to proper authorities. In addition, Briles alleges that the officials sought to prevent him from securing another coaching position elsewhere. He also included a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, and, in total, seeks unspecified damages in excess of $1,000,000. Here is a picture of Briles’ longtime attorney, Ernest H. Cannon, riding a horse at a rodeo.
  • Football player suspension challenges: In related stories covered in this space last week, two NFL players represented by the same Ohio law firm launched collateral attacks on the NFL/NFLPA collective bargaining agreement targeting alleged procedural deficiencies in the suspension-appeal process after both were suspended for drug violations. The NFL and NFLPA now have taken action in one of those cases by appointing a third arbitrator to hear a rescheduled appeal by Green Bay Packer Mike Pennel. The absence of a third arbitrator is central to the claims Pennel raised in the lawsuit he filed in Ohio federal court. In connection with that suit, Pennel also sought a temporary restraining order, which the responsive actions by the league and union were designed to moot. On Tuesday, Pennel agreed to drop his lawsuit in exchange for a reduction– from ten games to four– in his suspension, which will allow him to play in the postseason should his Packers secure a playoff berth. (Pennel’s attorneys also represent Philadelphia Eagle Lane Johnson, who filed similar complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and U.S. Department of Labor around the same time Pennel filed his lawsuit.)
  • Student-athlete classification: The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected claims by a group of former Penn student-athletes that they are employees entitled to minimum-wage compensation under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The trial court granted a motion to dismiss the defendants– the NCAA, Penn, and more than 120 other NCAA member schools– filed, and the appellate court affirmed. The court agreed that dismissal as to the non-Penn defendants was appropriate because of a lack of standing; the plaintiffs had attended only Penn and had no basis to recover wages from any school they didn’t attend. The court also agreed that dismissal was appropriate as to Penn, because the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim for relief from Penn. Noting the “revered tradition of amateurism in college sports” and the weight of judicial and regulatory precedent holding that student-athletes are not employees, the court concluded that the FLSA does not apply to student-athletes. While many disagree with this outcome, it is consistent with the original meaning and purpose behind the “student-athlete” designation. (In a concurring opinion, Judge Hamilton cautioned against broad application of the court’s decision, noting that the plaintiffs participated in a non-revenue sport– track and field– for a school that does not offer athletic scholarships, and suggested that he might have voted differently had the plaintiffs been student-athletes on athletic scholarship in a revenue sport.)
  • Hockey head injuries: A group of former NHL players suing the league for its alleged failure to warn them of known risks of head trauma now have requested class certification in that case for two classes of former players based on the different measures of relief sought: damages for those already diagnosed with neurological injuries and medical monitoring for others. Attorneys from a number of large law firms, including Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, are representing the NHL in this case. Skadden is the anchor tenant in a new commercial real estate development in Manhattan that also will be home to the NHL’s offices when it opens in 2019.
  • Minor League Baseball lobbying: MiLB has created a political action committee in order to boost lobbying efforts. The impetus for this move likely is the class-action lawsuit minor-league players filed alleging that their compensation violates federal wage and hour laws and the leagues’ attempt to snuff out that suit by way of congressional action. The proposed Save America’s Pastime Act would create a carve-out in the Fair Labor Standards Act exempting minor-league players from minimum-wage and overtime protections. There has been essentially no action on the bill since Rep. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky introduced it in June, leaving plenty of time for MLB to say dumb things about it.
  • Soccer ban: The Court of Arbitration for Sport denied former FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s request to overturn his six-year ban from all national and international soccer-related activity and fine of 50,000 Swiss francs for his involvement with bribes and kickbacks during his leadership of FIFA.
  • Canadian Super Bowl commercials: There is a thing in Congress called the House Northern Border Caucus, and four of its members, representing districts in North Dakota, New York, and Washington, sent a letter asking the Canadian government to reverse its decision to block Canadian advertisers from running commercials on the Canadian broadcast of the Super Bowl. Canadian broadcasters used to have an agreement with the NFL that allowed Canadian commercials on the Canadian broadcast of the game, but, in 2015, Canadian regulators changed course in response to viewer demands to see the popular American commercials that run during the game. Canadian broadcasters and advertisers and the NFL, which is losing out on Canadian advertising revenue as a result, all oppose that change. The company that holds the Canadian broadcast rights to the Super Bowl, Bell Media, also has sued the regulatory body in an attempt to reverse the policy.
  • Hockey logo: Things are off to a rough start for Las Vegas’ first major professional sports team after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the Golden Knights’ registration application, citing a “confusing[] similar[ity]” to a mark registered by the College of Saint Rose. Arguable visual similarities aside, I didn’t even know there was a Saint Rose, much less a College of Saint Rose, and I certainly didn’t know the school’s mascot is the Golden Knights, and neither did you, which means that, however similar these marks might be, the likelihood of confusion here is very low. This likely is little more than another instance of the USPTO seeking a moment in the sports sun.
  • Gambling: The nation of Antigua and Barbuda has issued a threat to the United States if the U.S. does not meet a year-end deadline to comply with a 2003 World Trade Organization order ruling that American online sports betting and gambling laws violate international law. If the U.S. does not comply with the WTO order, which also carries an annual noncompliance penalty of $21 million and has accrued to over $250 million, Antigua and Barbuda intends to suspend intellectual property protections for Americans, effectively permitting Antiguans to establish websites hosting royalty-free downloads of American IP (e.g., books, music, movies, television programming, etc.).
  • Baseball ambassador: Bobby Valentine, former MLB player and manager of the Mets and Red Sox, reportedly is under consideration by president-elect Donald Trump for the position of ambassador to Japan. Valentine, who currently serves as athletic director at Sacred Heart University, is popular among Japanese baseball fans thanks to two successful stints as manager of a professional baseball team there.

Sports court is in recess.

The Red Wings have lost their championship identity

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Since the Detroit Red Wings returned to championship prominence in the 1990s following the hiring of head coach Scotty Bowman, the team has been known for its smothering style of play. In this modern golden age, the Wings won four Stanley Cups– 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008– with legendary rosters, sure, but also by executing a theoretically simple and highly effective strategy focused on puck possession. Two decades before the concept would even begin to emerge in public hockey analysis, Bowman knew that puck possession led to wins.

In recent years, statisticians have made strides in tracking possession, something I’ve written about here a few times before:

A quick refresher on hockey’s new statistics: puck possession correlates more strongly with winning than do things like goals or shots; measuring possession in a fluid game like hockey is difficult; as a practical solution, Corsi and its less-inclusive sibling, Fenwick, are statistics that track certain, more easily measured events (all shots, including on-goal shots and missed shots, and, in Corsi’s case, blocked shots), thereby serving as proxies for possession and, therefore, indicators of team success. Once you get past the names (as the NHL is in the process of doing), the concept is simple.

The earliest season for which Corsi is available is the 2007-08 season. Fortunately for purposes of this post, that’s the last year Detroit, under the guidance of the Bowman Administration’s successor, Mike Babcock, won the Stanley Cup. Anecdotally, Babcock followed in Bowman’s possession-oriented footsteps, and the statistics agree: the Wings led the league by a wide margin.

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Today, though, things are different. Sure, Detroit hasn’t missed the playoffs since 1990, but it’s going to be another uphill climb to keep their historic streak alive, with current projections giving them just a 22.5% chance of earning a postseason berth. (Only three teams have worse odds right now.) It isn’t looking good.

Unsurprisingly (as a factual matter, anyway), puck possession has fallen off steeply this year, as compared with that last championship season. Here’s the same chart shown above for 2016:

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Under Jeff Blashill, Babcock’s successor, these really aren’t the same Red Wings. Here’s a broad visual of how well the team has controlled the puck during all seasons for which Hockey-Reference has Corsi data:

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The season isn’t yet half over, thankfully, but there is a lot of catching up to do if the team wants to leave its hallowed home on a positive note before making the move to the Hot-n-Ready Center next season.

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Related
Taking a pass on new hockey statistics
Bouncing puck: Passing, not shooting, is the key to scoring on the ice and the hardcourt
More on passing data and the shot quality debateHockey Prospectus
There’s no such thing as advanced sports statistics

Sports Law Roundup – 11/25/2016

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

Here are the top sports-related legal stories from a short holiday week:

  • NFL head injuries: A new lawsuit, filed Monday by thirty-eight former NFL players against the league and its teams, seeks an amendment to the NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement to provide for workers’ compensation benefits for CTE, the disease found in people who suffer from repeated brain trauma, for living patients, as well as loss-of-consortium compensation for their spouses. The plaintiffs, including Detroit Lions All-1990s lineman Tracy Scroggins, allege that they have symptoms of CTE. While doctors typically cannot diagnose CTE until the patient has died, allowing for a more thorough brain examination, this lawsuit shifts the focus to those demonstrating CTE symptoms while they are alive. Advances in brain-imaging technology and a newly developed blood test may provide medical support for legal claims based on “living CTE.”
  • Professional athlete Ponzi scheme: On Monday, a banker pleaded guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with a Ponzi scheme she ran with former NFL player Will Allen designed to defraud investors with a plan to make loans to professional athletes seeking offseason financing when they weren’t receiving payments from their team salaries. The athletes’ identities are not public information, but, according to the banker, they include “the second-best player on a National Football League team, two other pro football players, two pro baseball players and a hockey player.” Allen, who already entered a guilty plea, spent more than a decade in the NFL as a defensive back for the Giants and Dolphins.

Sports court is in recess.

Detroit Red Wings closing in on 2016 NHL playoffs, upholding historic mantle

It’s that simple. After a very big shutout win last night over the Flyers in Detroit, the Red Wings go on the road tonight in Boston with the opportunity to extend the longest active playoff streak in all of professional sports.

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The Bruins, Flyers, and Red Wings are fighting for the Eastern Conference’s two remaining playoff spots. Detroit and Boston each have two games left, including one against each other, while Philadelphia has three games remaining. The Eastern Conference standings currently look like this:   Continue reading

Hockey Photo of the Day

In advance of the Detroit-Colorado Stadium Series game on Saturday night, the Red Wings and Avalanche will hold an alumni game tomorrow night, an event that’s sure to stir some old passions between the former bitter Western Conference rivals.

2016 NHL All-Star Game recap

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The 2016 NHL All-Star weekend is in the books, and there were plenty of highlights from Nashville:

Continue reading

2016 NHL All Stars to receive impressive Nashville-themed gift bag

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The 2016 NHL All-Star Game, which takes place this weekend in Nashville, already was going to be a special event, with the shift from a traditional five-on-five game to a three-on-three tournament for a $1 million prize. Now comes news that each all-star will receive a pretty neat collection of Nashville-themed goodies.

The Tennessean reports on the contents, which include:

  • A specially designed bottle of Jack Daniels, which is distilled in nearby Lynchburg. All of the whiskey for these bottles reportedly comes from the same barrel.
  • A bottle of Winter Park Wheat beer, a specialty brew created by Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Co.
  • A Goo Goo Cluster, a Nashville candy staple.
  • Most impressively, a custom, personalized guitar from Gibson (which was founded in Kalamazoo, but now is based in Nashville). These Les Paul-model guitars have a number of neat features, including a 2016 NHL All-Star Game logo, the individual player’s name (close-up of Shea Weber’s here), and specially designed back plates and truss rod covers.

If you want one of these guitars but aren’t a 2016 NHL All Star, your only shot is to win one of the two available at a charity auction that appears to be occurring after the game. If you’re not John Rich, literally or metaphorically, you’ll have to be content with watching the skills competition at 7:00 Eastern on Saturday and the revamped all-star game at 5:00 Eastern on Sunday and hope that none of the players pulls a Kyle Busch with any of these custom Gibsons.