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TTFA vs Telemundo: verdict due today on DJW’s high stakes TV rights battle

From 3.30pm today, Judge Mira Dean-Armorer should give a decision in the Port of Spain High Court that, one way or the other, is likely to leave a lasting imprint on the tenure of Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams.

The local football body is defending itself against a claim from United States television giant Telemundo, a Spanish-language network, over the latter’s right to air the Soca Warriors’ remaining World Cup qualifying home matches against Panama, Mexico, Honduras and the United States.

The Warriors host Panama at the Hasely Crawford Stadium from 7pm this Friday (24 March) and then Mexico, four days later, at the same venue.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago attacking midfielder Keron Cummings (centre) celebrates his 2015 Gold Cup goal against Mexico with teammates (from right) Cordell Cato, Joevin Jones, Mekeil Williams and Aubrey David. (Courtesy MexSport/CONCACAF)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago attacking midfielder Keron Cummings (centre) celebrates his 2015 Gold Cup goal against Mexico with teammates (from right) Cordell Cato, Joevin Jones, Mekeil Williams and Aubrey David.
(Courtesy MexSport/CONCACAF)

Telemundo, which is wholly owned by NBCUniversal Media, declared a revenue of over US$600 million in 2016 while NBCUniversal pointed to assets of some US$68 billion.

On 22 December 2014, Telemundo paid over US$30 million to Traffic Sports USA, the Brazilian arm of a Brazilian sports event management television production company, for the rights to broadcast CONCACAF matches to its Spanish-speaking audience for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup qualifying matches—exclusive of Mexico and United States home games.

John-Williams, in a daring show of brinksmanship, refused to accept the validity of Telemundo’s contract—even though, since his election as local football president, the television station did broadcast two World Cup qualifying matches from Trinidad, a 2-2 draw with Guatemala on 2 September 2016 and a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica on 11 November 2016.

Here, we turn to a 60-year-old ruling by late English judge Lord Tom Denning—once hailed as “the people’s judge” for his simply-worded judgments and penchant for overriding precedent to deliver what he felt to be justice:

“No court in this land will allow a person to keep an advantage he has obtained by fraud,” said Denning, in the case of Lazarus Estates v Beasley. “No judgment of a court, no order of a Minister, can be allowed to stand if it has been obtained by fraud. Fraud unravels everything.”

Photo: Former Traffic US president Aaron Davidson (left) and ex-CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb both pleaded guilty to fraud and racketeering in the United States. (Copyright Business Wire)
Photo: Former Traffic US president Aaron Davidson (left) and ex-CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb both pleaded guilty to fraud and racketeering in the United States.
(Copyright Business Wire)

The crux of the TTFA’s case in this television rights saga is that the bribes paid by Traffic USA president Aaron Davidson to former CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb—who was then head of Caribbean Football Union (CFU) normalisation committee—should invalidate the deal, which saw Trinidad and Tobago’s most marketable asset arguably go for a song.

FBI investigations later discovered that Davidson and Media World CEO Roger Huguet paid Webb a combined US$3 million bribe, in mid-2012, to help them land the CFU deal. All three parties subsequently confessed to their wrongdoing.

CFU president Gordon Derrick agreed the deal with Traffic on or about 28 August 2012.

A day later, then Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) interim president Lennox Watson awarded the CFU “absolute discretion” over its broadcasting rights and agreed “that any agreement or arrangement negotiated by the CFU with Traffic or any other third party with respect to such rights will be binding upon the members and no member may unilaterally opt out with the provisions thereof.”

There was never any suggestion that either Derrick or Watson had acted improperly. The FBI did not point fingers at Telemundo either when, just before Christmas in 2014, the television company pulled off a major coup in its battle with leading American Spanish-speaking content provider, Univision, by snagging the World Cup television rights for over US$30 million.

Photo: CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb (left) congratulates freshly minted CFU President Gordon Derrick in 2012.
Photo: CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb (left) congratulates freshly minted CFU President Gordon Derrick in 2012.

But there was trouble looming when, on 29 November 2015, John-Williams was elected TTFA president and quickly turned his gaze to the television rights deal and the chance to earn the local body some more cash.

On 7 February 2016, John-Williams emailed Derrick and CFU general secretary Neil Cochrane on the issue:

“Why does the CFU continue to harbour a relationship with an organisation indicted on criminal charges relating to the TV rights of the CFU members? And why, considering the circumstances and evidence, has the CFU not withdrawn, terminated or repudiated the TV rights contract it signed with Traffic Sports USA on 28 August 2012?”

Nine months later, at the TTFA AGM, John-Williams raised the matter again. This time, he said he had legal advice from Reginald Armour, SC, which supported his position that the football body could exit its arrangement with Traffic—and, by extension, Telemundo.

The Traffic/CFU deal offered US$1.6 million to be split evenly between whichever Caribbean nations advanced to the Hex. And there was an additional US$50,000 per home game there.

John-Williams said the true value of home matches in the Hex was closer to US$500,000 and promised his board and general council a massive increase on the country’s television rights money.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's Daneil Cyrus (centre) hurdles Mexico player Adrian Aldrete (left) while his teammate Carlos Pena looks on in the 2013 Gold Cup quarterfinal at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (Copyright AFP 2014/ John Amis)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Daneil Cyrus (centre) hurdles Mexico player Adrian Aldrete (left) while his teammate Carlos Pena looks on in the 2013 Gold Cup quarterfinal at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
(Copyright AFP 2014/ John Amis)

The TTFA general council, with a few exceptions, had just one question: Can we get a piece?

Crucially, John-Williams did not alert Telemundo to this issue nor, based on information presented in this case, did he try to have the local football body’s contract with the CFU and/or Traffic voided in the United States or Jamaica—where the CFU is headquartered.

Instead, John-Williams waited until a month before the Soca Warriors hosted Mexico, the most lucrative home match of all, to inform Telemundo—via agents Elite Soccer and Publicidades—that, unless they paid significantly more money, the TTFA would sell the rights for the match to another party.

Telemundo, who claimed to have acted in good faith throughout, was flabbergasted.

“Assume it is a terrible deal they got and Traffic got a great deal with Telemundo,” said Christopher Hamel-Smith, SC, representing Telemundo. “If they really believe what they think—that that was the result of some conspiracy [and] some fraud; maybe it is true, I don’t know—one of the things they should perhaps be doing is making sure that Traffic and CFU hold the proceeds of the very good deal that they got with Telemundo. […] That is what would be a sensible thing to do.

Photo: Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president Gordon Derrick (second from left) is sandwiched by TTFA president David John-Williams (second from right) and TTFA employee Sharon O'Brien (far left) before the CFU Under-17 final on 25 September 2016 at the Ato Boldon Stadium. John-Williams tried unsuccessfully to replace Derrick as CFU president on 23 July 2016. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president Gordon Derrick (second from left) is sandwiched by TTFA president David John-Williams (second from right) and TTFA employee Sharon O’Brien (far left) before the CFU Under-17 final on 25 September 2016 at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
John-Williams tried unsuccessfully to replace Derrick as CFU president on 23 July 2016.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

“What is not consistent with honest commercial dealings is to say: I don’t care that you were are a bonafide acquirer of these rights. I don’t care about that… I allow you to exercise those rights on several occasions—even when I know about the fraud—and then when I feel it is appropriate I just say, you know what, I am going to take the same thing and start to sell it off to other people without any regard to your rights.

“I am going to make Peter pay for Paul. I am going to double-sell.”

Hamel-Smith urged the Port of Spain High Court to restrain the TTFA—whether directly or indirectly—from allowing any other party to enjoy the rights that his client acquired from Traffic, or to in any way hinder Telemundo from enjoying those rights.

Telemundo is also seeking damages, an account of profits, interest, any further relief deemed applicable by the Court and costs.

Further, he claimed shelter from the TTFA under the Protection against Unfair Competition Act.

Armour SC, who argued for the TTFA yesterday, retorted that Port of Spain was an inappropriate venue for this case and pointed to clause 15.2 in the Telemundo contract, which read:

Photo: Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Reginald Armour SC talks at the Transparency Institute anti-corruption conference on 8 March 2016. (Copyright Shaun Rambaran/forge.co.tt)
Photo: Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT) president Reginald Armour SC talks at the Transparency Institute anti-corruption conference on 8 March 2016.
(Copyright Shaun Rambaran/forge.co.tt)

“Any action, proceeding or litigation arising out of or relating to this Agreement must be instituted and prosecuted only in the Federal or State courts located within Miami-Dade County, Florida, and each party submits to the jurisdiction of such courts and waives any right to cause such Action to be instituted or tried elsewhere.”

As such, Armour filed for forum non conveniens so the matter could be moved to the United States.

“All of it boils down to: in what country is the issue of fact situated, bearing in mind that this is a case from Telemundo who have derived contractual rights from CFU and Traffic,” said Armour. “When you look at those contractual rights and in particular what we say is the root of the fraud—and we know in law fraud unravels anything—we say on their own evidence, the obvious forum in which this case should be tried is the United States of America…

“On their evidence, that is where the parties will be able to have justice done.”

Hamel-Smith cried foul. A shift outside of Trinidad and Tobago would make it virtually impossible to stop the TTFA from re-selling the rights for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers on 24 and 28 March to a rival station, although Telemundo is advertising the games at present.

Photo: NBCUniversal executive vice president Eli Velazquez. NBCUniversal is the parent company of Telemundo. (Copyright Sportsvideo.org)
Photo: NBCUniversal executive vice president Eli Velazquez.
NBCUniversal is the parent company of Telemundo.
(Copyright Sportsvideo.org)

“The US court has no personal jurisdiction over the TTFA,” said Hamel-Smith. “[The TTFA] is not present in Florida. If a US court were to grant an injunction, how in practical terms does a US court properly enforce or make sure that injunction has relevance?”

Further, Hamel-Smith argued that the clause in the Telemundo contract was irrelevant since the TTFA was not a party to the pact.

“The law is clear and we agree with it but it is inapplicable here,” he said. “This is not the case when this action is brought in breach of a contract. There is no contract between Telemundo and the defendant contractually obliging Telemundo or the defendant to bring proceedings [in any particular jurisdiction].”

Armour claimed to be outraged by Hamel-Smith’s reasoning. If the Telemundo/Traffic pact was the backbone of their legal action, he suggested, then the company ought not to shift the goal posts when the TTFA tries to enforce a clause from that contract.

“Your ladyship will be entitled to ask yourself legitimately what really was all of the submissions just made by my learned friend on behalf of the claimant, bearing in mind the claim which is before the court,” said Armour. “[…] The claimant filed on the 14th of March and indeed [followed that with] his statement of case, which has at the very top right-hand corner: Civil breach of contract.”

Photo: Attorney Christopher Hamel-Smith SC. (Copyright Channel5Belize)
Photo: Attorney Christopher Hamel-Smith SC.
(Copyright Channel5Belize)

The twinkle-toed Armour was not one for parking the bus. He probed constantly for an opportunity to counter-attack.

Was Telemundo, Armour enquired, guilty of “non-disclosure bordering on misrepresentation?”

He pointed to the affidavit from NBCUniversal executive vice-president Eli Velazquez, which identified the chain of contracts from the TTFA to Telemundo.

The problem, Armour asserted, was Watson signed for the TTFF, although that entity had been legally closed down a year earlier by former football president Oliver Camps. And the TTFF, he said, was not mandated by an act of Parliament to represent the TTFA in the first place—although the two bodies were essentially one and the same.

“They do not tell you that in Mr Velazquez’s affidavit,” said Armour. “That is a misrepresentation, a material non-disclosure. Without reference to the merits at all, your ladyship is entitled to say ‘I am not granting this injunction’…”

The messy truth is that the TTFF sold television rights and ran local football business long before Camps registered the TTFF as a sole trader company in 2006.

Photo: Former TTFF president Oliver Camps (right), outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter (centre) and 2010 LOC deputy CEO Nataki Kerr. (Courtesy TTFA)
Photo: Former TTFF president Oliver Camps (right), outgoing FIFA president Sepp Blatter (centre) and 2010 LOC deputy CEO Nataki Kerr.
(Courtesy TTFA)

Armour tried to rubbish Telemundo’s claim that the TTFA allowed them to broadcast World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala and Costa Rica, last year, without objection or stating its claim.

He pointed to a letter on 2 November 2016 in which the TTFA informed the CFU that they will allow the Costa Rica match to be broadcast without prejudice to the fact that they still intend to repudiate the contract.

“You were not told that by Mr Velazquez,” said Armour. “That is another example of material non-disclosure… And there are many of them, my lady…”

Hamel-Smith countered that the letter referenced by Armour did not get to Telemundo until this month when the mystified television company approached Traffic and CFU for help in understanding the TTFA’s current position.

“Telemundo was desperately reaching out to the TTFA trying to work out what was going on and running into a stone wall,” said Hamel-Smith.

The TTFA argued too that the very contract entered into by the the CFU and Traffic was also suspect since the regional football body did not acquire rights to Trinidad and Tobago’s World Cup qualifying matches until the following day.

Photo: Referee John Patti (far left) tries to calm things down as Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Khaleem Hyland (centre) remonstrates with Guatemala playmaker Jose Contreras (second from left) during 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on 2 September 2016. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)
Photo: Referee John Patti (far left) tries to calm things down as Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Khaleem Hyland (centre) remonstrates with Guatemala playmaker Jose Contreras (second from left) during 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on 2 September 2016.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

And Armour claimed that, since Traffic continued to do the television production of the qualifiers, Telemundo was effectively paying to re-transmit. So the very rights claimed by the American company, according to the attorney, were not as they seemed.

“This court is being asked by the claimant, Telemundo, to enforce by injunction its entitlement to transmission rights which involves earning money which is going to be paid to Traffic and Media World,” said Armour. “And therefore we say, when you come to adjudicate on the forum non conveniens, for this case to be properly ventilated before a court of justice […] it should be taken to the United States of America.

“And that is referable to the exclusive jurisdiction clause in the Telemundo contract. That [contract] is what they are suing in this court [on].

“Alternatively, when they realised, having written the pre-action protocol letter and sat down and really looked at their case [and] by the time they came to write their statement of case—and that is what you get good lawyers for—they say, you know what, we are very, very weak on this contract claim, for all of the reasons that we would show you, so we need to peg [the Protection against Unfair Competition Act] on the end as further alternative.”

For Armour and the TTFA, the case was very complicated and ought to be decided in North America.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger Joevin Jones controls the ball during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action against St Vincent and the Grenadines at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on 29 March 2016. (Courtesy: Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger Joevin Jones controls the ball during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action against St Vincent and the Grenadines at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on 29 March 2016.
(Courtesy: Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

But, if Judge Dean-Armorer were to decide to grant Telemundo an injunction, John-Williams pleaded that she have the television company pay US$450,000 and US$850,000 to cover the Panama and Mexico matches respectively.

The TTFA president claimed that those figures “represent the minimum value that ought to be payable to the TTFA for the broadcast rights of these games which the TTFA will seek to enforce as against Traffic and the CFU in the proper forum so that the root of the fraud which the claimant refers to as the ‘chain of contracts’ can be unravelled in the best interest of Trinidad and Tobago.”

John-Williams was elected as football president in November 2015. A year and a half later, he still has not filed suit against the supposed fraudsters from whom he has asked the High Court for protection.

Hamel-Smith, who claimed the TTFA’s financial demand was a gross exaggeration plucked from thin air, was unimpressed by John-Williams’ behaviour.

“That is not the conduct of an honest commercial man,” he said. “The conduct of an honest commercial man is that he respects the rights of somebody who is bonafide and he gets what he can get from the people who took advantage of him if he truly believes that.”

Photo: TTFA president David John-Williams (centre), media officer Shaun Fuentes (left) and new Soca Warriors coach Dennis Lawrence at the TTFA headquarters on 30 January 2017. (Copyright Allan V Crane/TTFA)
Photo: TTFA president David John-Williams (centre), media officer Shaun Fuentes (left) and new Soca Warriors coach Dennis Lawrence at the TTFA headquarters on 30 January 2017.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/TTFA)

Armour believeed Hamel-Smith should take his own advice—and instruct Telemundo to go after Traffic and the CFU.

At 3.30pm today, we shall find out what Judge Dean-Armorer thinks.

If the TTFA lose, the costs and damages of this case could erase the television money promised by their CFU/Traffic deal. Should they win, a TTFA insider suggested that the football body could pocket in excess of US$3.8 million for their remaining four World Cup qualifiers.

If true, it gives an indication of how drastically the Caribbean’s television rights were undervalued in the first place. It would not go unnoticed either in the region—where John-Williams was defeated in his bid to unseat Derrick as CFU president, last July—or in Central America.

But Telemundo, who claimed its reputation, advertising revenue and outlay of hundreds of millions of USD for the 2018 World Cup finals is put at risk by the TTFA’s action, is unlikely to back away.

John-William’s decision to pull the tiger’s tail—before winning a court decision that invalidates the controversial Traffic contract—could ultimately be a gamble which decides the immediate financial fate of the local football body.

For now, they hope that fraud does indeed unravel everything in this case.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams enjoys himself at new head coach Tom Saintfiet's maiden training session at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain on 15 December 2016. (Courtesy Nicholas Williams/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams enjoys himself at new head coach Tom Saintfiet’s maiden training session at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain on 15 December 2016.
(Courtesy Nicholas Williams/Wired868)

AboutLasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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43 comments

  1. You cannot use a cellphone in the court.

  2. Lasana Liburd… you should pull a facebook live for this judgement! I’m sure it will make an excellent law case/study!… just wonder if TTFA was replaced with USS if it may make any difference

  3. Took me a while to read through the entire piece but what stands out to me is the vast sums of money that COULD have been used to finance Bona fide football programs and even clear up some of the debt of the FA if these TV rights were properly valued in the first instance.

  4. It really seems like if the slavery mentallity still exists with the TTFA execs in our sweet country eh. Them really good yes.

  5. A great read and a riveting story and law case! We can argue the approach but credit to DJW for being willing to make such a bold challenge. I look forward to seeing this judgement & the reasoning!

  6. Scotty Ranking

    One of the worst things to do, as a manager, is to conduct oneself immorally in a situation where one has the moral high ground. And it seems that King David wants to treat the affairs of the TTFA as if the TTFA is an extension of his personal fiefdom: W Connection.
    I honestly feel that his conduct, more than the facts of the case, might determine how this case concludes locally.

  7. Earl, I fully understand and share your sentiments re the history of deceit and disillusionment surrounding the TTFA and our players, coaches, tech staff.
    However, as a journalist, I try as best to compartmentalize the issues.
    Overall, though, I believe we both share a great passion for the wellbeing and advancement of TT football, notwithstanding the afflicting failures and ills of successive TTFA execs.

  8. Well my president and the TTFA better win for their sake in order to finally pay off my Coach Hart, Coach Ken Elie, the players both men and women and whoever else that they are owing plenty of monies eh. and Siewdath Persad I really don’t think that some of you all really doesn’t understand that the corrupted TTFA needs to stop exploiting our players and local Coaches before we ever win any games again and eventually qualify for another World Cup eh, and then also moving forward the madness really have to stop in the way they treat our locals in comparison to how the white foreign base Coaches and their staff are always treated man.steeuuppss. Them really

  9. Good job, Lasana.
    Great presentation of the arguments put forward before Justice Mira Dean-Armorer by both parties, in support of their respective position on the matter.
    The matter is sub judice so CFU or any other connected party will not comment prior to the judgement.
    By the same token, I shall not attempt to comment on the case before the court nor seek to predetermine the judge’s ruling.
    However, I also share the firm view that the TTFA president has every right to legitimately pursue acquisition of a fair market value tv rights deal on behalf of the Association.
    TTFA attorney Reginald Armour SC has mounted some powerful arguments against the injunction filed to stop the Association from so doing.
    What a thing if a win-win TTFA tv rights battle is followed by a TT win-win versus Panama and Mexico on Friday and Tuesday!
    I eagerly await today’s judgement as no less I do to witness the outcome of TT’s upcoming back-to-back CONCACAF Hex home matches, under new coach Dennis “Tallest” Lawrence.

  10. Hi risk high reward, one can reasonably argue that as president he has every right to validate and pursue better terms as tv rights are a significant source of income for any federation. The issue of course that seems to plague him and most others that hold administrative offices is the manner of how he is going about this which increases the risk that he may lose and put the FA under even more financial strain. Good luck to him.

    • Well said Gregg. I think you’ve captured the issue perfectly. His manner of doing things is just jaw dropping.
      But interesting to see if it works for him this time.
      Hell to pay if it doesn’t.

  11. Earl Best

    Brother! Yuh have to read this story slow, slow, slow if yuh want to really understand what going on. Leh mih exhale and take a few deep breaths. I feel like I’ve just played a fast-paced game that went to extra-time in the rare air of Mexico City.

  12. The pressure of a Friday broadcast deadline looming for either Telemundo(NBC Universal) or the other likely broadcaster, Univision(owned by Haim Saban of Power Rangers fame) means the TTFA is hoping for a last minute capitulation by Telemundo for increased compensation. The risks are high but the rewards for TTFA are significant; hope they did the cost(legal fees) benefit analysis. My gut tells me that TTFA going to get squeezed by these big boys but you have to give DJW credit for having the cojones.

  13. Very detailed thanks. Would have loved to hear from the CFU. What are their impressions? Would they be assisting Telemundo or TTFA or neither with their case? Did they ever try to renegotiate deal after the bribery scandal? Also, if the TTFA loses in court, wonder how the board will feel about all the legal fees expended?