Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Step Your Game Up

I've been staring at this all week:
More relevant to the monopoly issue, however, is an e-mail which demonstrates that the NFLPA was complicit in helping EA maintain its status as the sole publisher of a pro football game. A February, 2007 e-mail from NFLPA executive Clay Walker to an NFLPA attorney makes this quite plain:
I was able to forge this deal with the [Pro Football Hall of Fame] that provides them with 400K per year (which is significantly below market rate) in exchange for the HOF player rights. EA owes me a huge favor because of that threat was enough to persuade Take Two to back off its plans, leaving EA as the only professional football videogame manufacturer out there.

...The per player price for most of these guys was tens of thousands of dollars less than what they were guaranteed by Take Two Interactive so it’s a real coup that we were able to pull this off so cheaply. You have to remember that EA’s total cost is only $200,000 per year. We know that Take Two offered six figure deals to several former NFL players so the total cost is millions below market prices...

Even without context, you'll easily recognize that Clay Walker is a tremendous douchebag.

Now, let me provide some context (based on unsealed court documents, and thanks to Game Politics for the link) and you will see that Clay Walker, actually, is a first ballot Douchebag Hall of Famer.

This is a plaintiff's brief, by the way, but given how the case turned out (which I'll tell you about later), this version of events was clearly accepted by the jury.

A class-action suit was filed against the NFLPA by retired NFL players claiming breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. Basically, the NFLPA went to retired players and tried to get them to sign a General Licensing Agreement (GLA) for something called the "Retired Players Group Licensing Program." If enough players signed, this would enable the NFLPA to provide "one stop shopping," so to speak, for player licensing rights, both active and retired.

Certainly, that would drive up the licensing fees that the NFLPA could charge.

The NFLPA was successful in this effort, and wound up signing over 2,100 retired players. And, in theory, this could be a good deal for retired players, because they would share in licensing revenue.

Well, unless the NFLPA completely screwed them over. Cue screwed over music.

Incredibly, the retired players got almost nothing, and the NFLPA reasoning was so twisted and incomprehensible as to be gibberish:
Even though Defendants concede in their opening brief that they did indeed license retired player group rights, they claim that the retired players are not entitled to any proceeds. According to Defendants, the reason for the lack of entitlement is that, although, the NFLPA promised the retired players that it would share proceeds with "all eligible NFLPA members," the NFLPA then set up secret criteria for elegibility that required a member to have signed a GLA and to be on a current roster of an NFL team.

So basically, they sign all these retired players to contracts guaranteeing them a percentage of licensing revenue, then rewrite the eligibility requirements so that they're not eligible.

Did these retired players get ANYTHING? Yes, apparently:
...Defendants claim that in June 2003 they paid 136 (of the approximately 2100) retired players $750 each in connection with an agreement with Electronic Arts...

$750? Are you kidding me? EA pays the NFLPA $25 MILLION a year (based on the court document), and the retired players got $100,000? That's pathetic.

Even worse, the NFLPA was actively undercutting the retired players when it came to licensing fees. That's what the e-mail at the top of the post referes to--Walker was BRAGGING that he'd screwed the retired players ("millions below market price") as well as crushed Take-Two's effort to make a pro football game.

Boy, I hope that someone digs into the relationship between EA and the NFLPA, and find out if there were any, um, "side arrangements" at work when EA secured the exclusive NFLPA license. Because this stinks to high heaven, and now I'm wondering what else smells.

If you're wondering how the court case turned out, the jury returned a $28.1 million dollar verdict against the NFLPA, which included $21 million in punitive damages. Oh, and Mr. Walker, if you're looking for a presenter when you get inducted into the Douchebag Hall of Fame, I'm available.

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