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Fantasy Football Convention Threatening NFL Over Cancellation

6 Aug, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
National Fantasy Football Convention’s Pending Lawsuit Claims NFL’s ‘Thugs’ Forced Event to Close Down on Short Notice, Citing Arcane Rules Regarding Casinos

The NFL threw a flag, declaring some athletes were out of bounds, and the stadium is still ringing with boos. At least that’s how it shapes up on the field of play.

Tony Romo, who had organized the National Fantasy Football Convention, was not pleased to learn the NFL was shutting it down on short notice because of its longstanding policy against players appearing in an official capacity in any event held on casino property.

The NFFC describes the defunct event as featuring 100 current and former NFL players and personalities who were to be present for three days of stage events, sessions, autograph and photo opportunities, exhibits, drafts, fan-led question & answer sessions and other activities.

According to ESPN, the NFFC, scheduled to be held in July, was canned a few weeks out because the NFL – many of whose players were set to appear – objected to the fact that the event was originally scheduled to be hosted by the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas.

An NFL spokesman confirmed via e-mail a Fox Sports report about the league's longstanding policy that it brought to the attention of the NFL Players Association, writing, "Players and NFL personnel may not participate in promotional activities or other appearances in connection with events that are held at or sponsored by casinos."

According to a source, players could have been subject to a fine or a suspension if they participated.

All of the sessions were to be held at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, which does not have on-site gambling, but the NFL held fast to its policy.

NFL figures who were expected to be in attendance included stars such as Rob Gronkowski, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray and Antonio Brown, as well as, of course, Romo himself.

In late July, the NFFC mounted its own blitz, this one of finger-pointing directed at what it called the ‘corporate thugs’ of the NFL.

“At no time was any part of the family-friendly National Fantasy Football Convention going to be held on casino grounds, and the NFFC was not in any way involved nor endorsing adjacent gaming facilities in any capacity,” noted an announcement from NFFC, sent out through Presswire.

The announcement noted, “While the NFL was well aware of NFFC for months, including posting an article on NFL.com touting the NFFC in March (the article was taken down 24 hours later), it wasn’t until June, with the convention only one month away, that the NFL began taking ardent and officious strides to prevent its players and personalities from participating in the NFFC, and even revoking previously approved appearance contracts with NFL Network personalities.”

Through its attorney, Julie Pettit, the NFFC is demanding the league should be held accountable for what it terms “hypocrisy and harassment.”

A source close to the event told ESPN that the players were due more than a combined $1 million in marketing or appearance fees. In addition, fantasy football players and football fans who were planning to attend the conference had already incurred expenses such as travel reservations.

According to ESPN, the NFFC said it will host its event next year in Los Angeles.

For those who have registered for the 2015 event, the NFFC says it will offer refunds or a complimentary benefit package to the 2016 convention.

The issue brings up the uncomfortable juxtaposition of gambling and professional sports. While the four main leagues – the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL – say they are officially opposed to gambling and wagering of any kind, they (or, in many cases, their teams) continue to accept partnerships with daily fantasy sports websites that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The NFL has not yet signed with a fantasy sports website, but five of its teams, including the Steelers, have signed deals with the site, DraftKings, allowing the company myriad advertising possibilities. Sixteen NFL teams have signed similar deals with a competing site, FanDuel.

According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, Americans spend about $15 billion annually on fantasy sports. Most of that -- $11 billion -- is spent on the NFL. To put that in perspective, the NFL's annual revenue is about $10 billion, according to Forbes. Popular pay-to-play sites take a cut of every payout; in 2010, FanDuel’s CEO said it was about $35 per player each month.

NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL officials say there is no conflict of interest for them, and that fantasy sports leagues do not conflict with their philosophies. However, Jim Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, told reporters in April that those (including politicians and sports officials) who argue that daily fantasy games are not gambling are "absolutely, utterly wrong."

"I don't know how to run a football team, but I do know how to run a casino, and this is gambling," Murren said.

Some teams are doing even more to promote fantasy sports activity. The Minnesota Vikings will kick off next season with a new seating section, designed to appeal to fantasy football fans. Club Purple, according to reports, cost $1 billion and features sofas and high-definition televisions so that fans can keep up with sports on multiple platforms during the football game.

Look at it this way: Nobody will go home with a concussion.

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