IANAL either, but it sounds like breach of fiduciary duty to me. The owners had an obligation to the League & players to get as much money for them as possible. T.V. isn’t going to let the owners get a free X month float on the T.V. money without getting a concession elsewhere, probably a decrease in the money paid to the league for the T.V. rights. That decrease in money from what TV would have paid, absent the agreement to pay the owners without actually televising games, is coming out of everyone’s pocket. The player’s share of that decrease would be the damages from the owners’ breach.
Pretty much what Enginerd said.
What I don’t know is what’s going to be the remedies in the judge’s order. Will the existing TV deal be rescinded? Do the owners have to pay damages out of pocket to the players right now, or only when the games actually start? Disgorgement is one of the traditional remedies for breach of fiduciary duty; how will that apply here? Will the order be stayed pending appeal?
This is huge, despite the League’s protestations to the contrary, and I imagine will be promptly appealed. Not that the owners are going to lose now, but if the owners were allowed to keep the pre-paid TV money, I couldn’t see how the players could win. Now, if this order stands, I think you’ll see some of the more cash-strapped owners start to reconsider the wisdom of a lockout. Certainly, the owners are going to have to get creative in acquiring bridge financing, to service their stadium/facilities debt if nothing else.