The National Football League will have to justify its hypocritical anti-gambling stance in court.
On Monday, a Texas-based company named The Fan Expo LLC sued the NFL in US District Court in Dallas County. Fan Expo is seeking over $1m in damages related to last month’s abrupt cancellation of the National Fantasy Football Convention (NFFC).
The three-day convention, which was to feature Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and a host of other NFL stars, was scrapped one month before it was set to kick off after the NFL ‘reminded’ the NFL Players Association of its longstanding policy of not associating the NFL brand with gambling.
The NFFC was scheduled to take place at the Sands Expo in Las Vegas, a non-gaming appendage to Las Vegas Sands’ Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. But the NFL insisted that this proximity contravened its policy of preventing its players from engaging in “promotional activities or other appearances at or in connection with events that are held at or sponsored by casinos.”
The lawsuit accuses the NFL of engaging in “blatant and premeditated sabotage” of the NFFC, in which Romo holds an ownership stake. The complaint says the NFL had originally been on board with the event, but waited “until the last minute” to have its change of heart, thereby ensuring it could “inflict the maximum negative impact on the NFFC.”
NFL ORIGINALLY ON BOARD
The complaint alleges that the NFL was “expressly supportive” of the NFFC when it first learned of the event. Determining that it needed a “fantasy football expert,” the NFFC contacted NFL Network fantasy analyst Michael Fabiano about attending the event. Fabiano said he needed to clear it with the NFL, and the complaint says he “obtained express approval directly from the NFL, and subsequently executed a contract” with Fan Expo.
In addition, Dylan Milner, senior producer for the network’s NFL Fantasy Live program, contacted the NFFC with a request that the NFL be directly involved in the event by ensuring that NFL Fantasy Live personnel speak on panels at the NFFC. Convinced it had the league’s blessing, Fan Expo says the NFFC “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars” promoting and preparing for the event.
But by early June, the complaint says the NFL placed “a series of intimidating phone calls” to players, agents and the NFLPA, in which the league made “malicious and groundless threats” that players would face fines and potential suspensions if they participated in the event.
NFL STANCE “REEKS OF HYPOCRISY”
The complaint says the NFL’s actions “reek of hypocrisy, given the NFL’s position on other, similar events, their approval of partnerships between NFL franchises and casinos and their own promotional usage of NFL players and their likenesses for the benefit of their own events.”
The complaint argues that the NFL’s actions were “completely inconsistent with its prior course of dealing.” Fan Expo says that “countless examples” demonstrate that “when the NFL gets a piece of the pie, the NFL flagrantly and systematically violates its own approved policy against casinos and gambling.”
Among other examples, Fan Expo cites the 2014 decision by the New Orleans Saints to hold their official training camp at The Greenbriar Resort, which contains a 103k-square-foot casino and bills itself as ‘Monte Carlo Meets Gone With the Wind.’ The complaint also cites the Detroit Lion’s partnership with the MGM Grand Detroit casino on a branded “Tunnel Club” fan zone at Ford Field.
Leading online daily fantasy sports operator FanDuel’s partnerships with 15 NFL teams are also offered off as evidence of the NFL’s “utterly disingenuous” stance vis-à-vis gambling. The NFL has attempted to argue that daily fantasy sports is a ‘skill’ game and thus doesn’t meet the strict definition of gambling but the CEO of casino operator MGM Resorts says the league is “absolutely, utterly wrong” on this point.
As for motive, the complaint suggests that the NFL had recognized “the commercial opportunities available to the NFFC” and therefore “likely decided to kill Tony Romo’s effort so that it could replace it with one of its own.” Reaching for the metaphorical dagger, the complaint notes that “in doing business with the NFL, the house always wins.”