Group Formed to Battle NFL 'Scramble'


More than 40 owners of sports bars and restaurants met Tuesday night in Hillcrest to discuss strategies for contesting a lawsuit by Home Box Office and fighting the threat by the National Football League to "scramble" its fall telecasts.

They emerged from the meeting, which was also attended by eight attorneys, to announce the formation of a new organization, the Assn. for Sports Fans' Rights, which they hope will gain national backing.

"Tonight, all present agreed to join together to investigate options that may exist, including rallying the customers of the bars and restaurants, as they are the ones being denied the games," Norman Lebovitz, the owner of Sluggo's, said in a prepared statement.

Lebovitz's comments came in reaction to a suit brought by HBO against the owners of more than 30 San Diego sports bars for showing the recent heavyweight title bout between Mike Tyson and Henry Tillman, via a Mexican satellite feed. The suit, filed Aug. 8 in U.S. District Court, gives the defendants 20 days in which to respond.

On Friday, the NFL stunned owners and customers of sports bars and restaurants across the country by announcing it plans to scramble its telecasts beginning with the first regular-season game Sept. 9.

Lebovitz said sports bars and restaurants are dependent on showing NFL games by use of rooftop "dishes" that pick up the games as they're beamed from satellites. The shock of the NFL's announcement was that no descrambling option will be available.

"We didn't get the $3.6 billion the NFL got," Lebovitz said, referring to the new four-year network television agreement, "and we're not about to lay down and die. Many of us are dependent on these games for our livelihoods. Some people will go under if this is enforced."

Lebovitz said the Assn. for Sports Fans' Rights plans another meeting next week.

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