ESPN vs Florida State lawsuit.

The legal tangle between Florida State and the ACC is picking up in intensity as both sides try to stake their claims when it comes to the Seminoles’ attempted exit from the conference. Given the high stakes involved on both sides, it was always going to get messy as the future of the ACC and perhaps the rest of college football hangs in the balance. Now ESPN is entering the fray on the side of the ACC with a blistering legal filing in support of the conference’s efforts to keep details on the network’s media deal with the conference under seal.

The albatross that is the ESPN-ACC contract is seen as the centerpiece in why Florida State is trying to exit the conference so hastily. While the SEC and Big Ten have signed huge new contracts with media partners and are seeing their revenue skyrocket, the ACC is locked into a contract with ESPN until 2036 with a grant of rights agreement binding the schools. Florida State has tried to argue that the deal actually expires a decade earlier due to an ESPN option that exists, which was a new revelation in the saga.

Now ESPN is joining the ACC in an effort to keep the rest of the details of their media deal under seal. The current effort boils down to a jurisdictional dispute where Florida State is suing the ACC in Florida while the ACC is counter-suing Florida State in North Carolina, where the conference’s headquarters are located. ESPN is joining the North Carolina suit.

Some of the highlights include Bristol’s opening salvo where they actually call themselves the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” in official legal documents. “The terms of ESPN’s agreements are textbook trade secrets,” ESPN argues in their opening paragraph. Publicly disclosing the terms of an ESPN agreement with a prominent rightsholder would be destabilizing and harmful: competing networks would gain a leg up on ESPN in the next round of negotiations with rightsholders, and all other rightsholders negotiating with ESPN would capitalize on the knowledge of what specific terms ESPN has agreed to with—or has not required from—others.”

ESPN continues their argument by stating a position that the revelation of the inner workings and details of their media rights negotiations and contracts would be severely detrimental to their business and provide distinct advantages to their competitors. Amidst the various legal precedents that ESPN points to in their favor also comes an explosive allegation. ESPN’s lawyers seem to casually float an accusation that Florida State may or may not have committed a felony in disclosing some of this information already. Furthermore, ESPN argues that their trade secrets should remain secret whether it be North Carolina or Florida or anywhere else.

“Whether FSU and its lawyers have committed a felony by knowingly disclosing ESPN’s trade secrets is a question for another day, but, relevant here, there is no question that trade secrets are carefully guarded throughout the United States, including in Florida,” ESPN argues. “The definition of a trade secret under Florida law is substantially similar to that of North Carolina (and California) law, and the terms of ESPN’s agreements plainly qualify.”

We’re early on in the first quarter of the ESPN-ACC-Florida State legal dispute and already the sides are speculating on potential felonies! As the various cases continue to evolve, expect the rhetoric to ratchet up between both sides. It’s going to make the whole College Football Playoff kerfuffle between FSU and ESPN look like a game of electric football by comparison.

You can read the entire filing from ESPN counsel below.

ESPN – Memorandum of Law in… by Brendan