A Common Pleas Court judge yesterday slapped the Eagles with an $8 million bill for unpaid luxury-box revenues to the city, ending half of a noisy legal squabble that grew louder amid the city's ongoing budget crisis.
The Eagles expect to make some or all of that money back within the next two weeks, when the same judge is expected to rule on how much the city owes the Eagles for a preseason game that was canceled in 2001 due to poor field conditions.
"I'm so pleased that today's favorable court ruling has resolved a key part of this long-standing lawsuit between the city and the Eagles, and I appreciate the hard work on all sides," Mayor Nutter said in a news release. "I am also hopeful that the judge will rule shortly in the last final phase of the case so that this entire matter can reach a final conclusion."
Eagles attorney Mathieu J. Shapiro said that Judge Albert W. Sheppard should award the Eagles between $5 million and $8 million for the canceled game, based on arguments put forth by both sides. That means the Eagles should end up paying the city between nothing and $3 million.
Eagles spokeswoman Pamela Browner Crawley said the organization was "glad we were able to come to an agreement with the city on the amount of money that we owe" and "equally pleased" that the judge was prepared to rule on the other claim.
"We have important civic, community, and economic ties to the City of Philadelphia and the region, and we look forward to that being the focus of our ongoing dialogue as we look to the future," Crawley said.
The order directed the Eagles to immediately pay the $8 million.
The Eagles said they would comply with the order, though it was unclear whether the city would wait for the judge's second ruling in the coming weeks before collecting.
The disputes have their beginnings in the canceled preseason game, scheduled against the Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 13, 2001. It was to be the first game under an agreement that entitled the city to 70 percent of revenues from the luxury skyboxes at Veterans Stadium. That game was canceled because the turf was deemed unplayable.
Both matters came to a head in June 2004 when the city sued the Eagles for $8 million in uncollected revenue for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. The Eagles countered with the claim that the city had cost them $8 million when the Ravens game was canceled.
"The city, through its incompetence, lack of foresight, and general mismanagement, breached the most simple and elemental obligation of its lease with the Eagles: It failed . . . to provide a field in suitable condition for the Eagles' scheduled preseason game," the team argued in court filings.
Yesterday's decision signals the beginning of the end for a bad public-relations saga for the Eagles, whose legal dispute became a political football during the city's budget crisis.
When the mayor said he would have to close one-fifth of the city's libraries to save $8 million, irate citizens condemned the Eagles on sports radio and civic forums for not paying their bill. Protesters even showed up outside owner Jeffrey Lurie's Wynnewood mansion.
The Eagles filed motions in March arguing that the city had reneged on a handshake agreement to settle both claims for $1 million under Mayor John F. Street. The former mayor actually came to City Hall and requested a news conference so he could deny that claim.
At an unrelated event yesterday, Nutter said the Eagles were an important franchise in Philly and he was glad to see the end of it.
"This kind of action - going back and forth - has gone on for much too long," Nutter said.