Tony Romo was going to put on a fantasy football convention in Las Vegas in July. He was going to bring more than 100 NFL buddies -- DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant and Rob Gronkowski among them -- to meet fans and ... well, discuss fantasy football strategies, apparently. The "fantasy football" part of the National Fantasy Football Convention seemed like more of an excuse to get fans closer to the players they root for on their real-life and virtual teams.
Then the NFL squashed what seemed like a fun thing, citing an arcane rule:
The league, though, informed the NFL Players Association that players would be breaching NFL policy because the NFFC was booked on a casino property (the Sands Expo) even though there is no gambling at the center itself.
"Players and NFL personnel may not participate in promotional activities or other appearances at or in connection with events that are held at or sponsored by casinos," an NFL spokesman said Friday in an email statement to FOX Sports.
NFFC organizers decided to cancel their event and are now set to debut next summer in Los Angeles.
Now the NFFC is fighting back. It has filed a lawsuit against the NFL, saying that the league knew about the event well before June, when it began informing players that they could be subject to fines if they participated. The NFFC's evidence includes an article on NFL.com that was published just after the event was announced in March and was taken down within 24 hours of being posted.
The NFL threatened to punish players who showed up at the NFFC because it doesn't want players to make public appearances at places where gambling might occur. This shouldn't have been a worry about the NFFC, however, because it was supposed to be held at a rather large convention center that just happened to be owned by a casino.
The NFFC called the NFL's threats "bullying tactics."
"The NFL is once again acting like a corporate thug," NFFC co-counsel Michael K. Hurst said, via Pro Football Talk, "initiating a campaign to intimidate players away from this event because of its potential for success and in order to kill or control any profits."
In June, PFT reported that the NFL may have been upset that Romo identified a strong alternate revenue stream:
The league was pissed that it didn't think of doing a fantasy football convention before a player did.
The source predicts that the NFL will now get into the fantasy football convention business, holding its own event that will compete with those organized by players and others not connected to the NFL. And the key letters are N, F, and L; only the league can use those in the marketing, promotion, and presentation of a fantasy-football event.
Romo himself called the NFL's threats a "scare tactic" while speaking with ESPN's Colin Cowherd, and accused the league of strong-arming players so they wouldn't attend.
"The NFL never called me or my agency or the NFFC," Romo said. "They just went about the process of communicating to the players and the NFLPA. I think when that takes shape I think you understand that the NFL was really trying to not necessarily cancel the event. I think more than that they were trying to probably persuade people not to attend the event."
Dez Bryant was even more overt about his feelings for the NFL.
@tonyromo don't understand whenever they make shit load of money off of us smh.....— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) June 6, 2015
@tonyromo put that event together for the fans... Geniuses shit— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) June 6, 2015
The NFFC issued an apology to fans, and the choice of a full refund or a complementary benefit package to the planned 2016 convention in Los Angeles to anyone who bought a ticket. By then, the NFL will perhaps have announced its own competing convention.
Ulterior motive or not, the episode served as a microcosm of why fans and players are increasingly frustrated with the league office. At its best, it's slow and tone-deaf. At its worst, the NFL just seems downright vindictive.