August 25, 2017

NFL Franchise Moves and Controversies Create a Lucrative Playing Field for Big Law

The start of the 2017 National Football League season may seem like a hot mess to fans–especially those in San Diego, St. Louis and Oakland–but it looks like another banner year for the attorneys who keep it all legal. By any measure, 2016 was a boom year for Big Law and the NFL.


Significantly richer broadcast deals helped and so did maneuvers like the $1.6 billion in “relocation fees” that the league squeezed out of the teams that were heading for the exit door from their old cities. The Rams and Chargers are each set to pay $465 million, and the Raiders will be expected to pay $368 million to the NFL, due in 10 years.

Those are hefty exit fees. How can a team hope to make up all that money?

“The 32 NFL teams could not agree to raise ticket prices under U.S. antitrust law,” said Eric Hochstadt, a partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. Hochstadt and Jim Quinn are two of the nation’s top antitrust lawyers and have been retained by a coalition of Oakland fan groups determined to keep their Raiders.

Quinn, who in January moved to Berg & Androphy with of counsel status after more than 40 years at Weil, was the lead trial lawyer in the 1992 Freeman McNeil case that brought true free agency to the NFL.

“So instead the cartel has found a new way to achieve that same illegal end; they all agree that an NFL team can move in return for huge relocation fees. That is the quid pro quo,” he said. “How is the team going to do it? By raising ticket prices. This is not going to injure Mark Davis or Stanley Kroenke. They’ll make up that money, and this new revenue stream for the NFL teams, which is not shared with the players, will come straight out of consumers’ pockets.”


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