Judge dismisses part of Romo-linked firm’s claim against NFL

DALLAS (AP) – A judge has dismissed a major element of a lawsuit filed against the NFL by a company partly owned by Tony Romo over a canceled fantasy football event.

Following a hearing on Monday, State District Judge Carl Ginsberg threw out a claim by Fan Expo LLC that the NFL intimidated players with threats of fines and suspensions if they participated in what the league called a gambling-related event.

“The only thing I’ll say is that the NFL is gratified with the court’s ruling, which was a careful analysis, and we believe it was the correct one,” Thad Behrens, an attorney representing the NFL, told The Dallas Morning News.

Fan Expo attorney Julie Pettit said no decision has been made on an appeal. She also said Fan Expo’s breach-of-contract claim against the NFL is still pending trial.

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The Texas-based company claims the NFL initially approved the event by allowing some members of league-owned media outlets to participate. The subsequent NFL decision forced the cancellation of last July’s convention in Las Vegas.

The Fan Expo created the National Fantasy Football Convention and used Romo as its headliner while getting commitments from Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, New England tight end Rob Gronkowski and Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell.

DeMarco Murray, Romo’s former teammate and the NFL rushing leader who signed with Philadelphia in free agency, also was among the 60 players the lawsuit says had agreed to attend. The suit said there were another 35 players who were considering signing agreements.

The event was to include autograph sessions with players and clinics with fantasy football experts. It was to be held at the Sands Expo, a convention center that is part of the Venetian Resort but doesn’t have gambling or slot machines.

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The lawsuit said the mother of New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was among those warned by the NFL that her son would be punished if he participated. It also said NFL senior labor relations counsel Brook Gardiner contacted the Cowboys, prompting the team to call an event organizer.

After failed attempts to persuade the NFL that the event wasn’t associated with gambling, it was called off and refunds were offered to fans who had already booked trips. Organizers say they are planning to hold the event in Los Angeles next summer.

The suit listed several examples of what the plaintiffs considered casino ties to other players and teams, including a cruise hosted by Gronkowski and a fantasy football event in Las Vegas with ties to New York Jets receiver Brandon Marshall. The fantasy event was about the same time that Romo’s was supposed to be held.

The NFL knew nothing of the Gronkowski cruise until after Fan Expo representatives brought it to its attention, Behrens told The Dallas Morning News.

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The ruling sends mixed messages, said Michael Hurst, another Fan Expo attorney.

“I guess if you’re Rob Gronkowski or Cam Newton or folks that participate in Warren Moon’s event, then it’s OK and the NFL will turn a blind eye to it and maybe do nothing,” he said. “However, if you’re somebody that’s promoting a large event with a lot of players, then the NFL is going to step in and do something about it.”