NFL Ordered to Pay Billions in ‘Sunday Ticket’ Antitrust Settlement: NPR

NFL Ordered to Pay Billions in ‘Sunday Ticket’ Antitrust Settlement: NPR

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is shown arriving at federal court June 17, 2024, in Los Angeles.

Damian Dovarganes/AP/AP

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Damian Dovarganes/AP/AP

LOS ANGELES — A U.S. District Court jury on Thursday ordered the NFL to pay nearly $4.8 billion in damages after ruling that the league violated antitrust laws by distributing out-of-market Sunday afternoon games on a premium subscription service.

The jury awarded $4.7 billion in damages to the residential category and $96 million in damages to the commercial category. Since damages can be tripled under federal antitrust laws, the NFL could be liable for $14.39 billion.

The lawsuit involved 2.4 million residential and 48,000 business subscribers in the United States who paid for the out-of-market gaming package for the 2011 through 2022 seasons on DirecTV. The lawsuit claimed the league violated antitrust laws by selling its Sunday game package at an inflated price. Subscribers also claim the league restricted competition by offering the “Sunday Ticket” only on one satellite provider.

The NFL announced it would appeal the verdict. That appeal would go to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then eventually to the Supreme Court.

If the NFL were to pay damages, it could cost each of the 32 teams about $449.6 million.

“We are disappointed with today’s jury verdict in the NFL Sunday Ticket class action,” the league said in a statement. “We continue to believe that our media distribution strategy, which includes broadcasting every NFL game on over-the-air free television in participating teams’ markets and national distribution of our most popular games, complemented by many additional choices including RedZone, Sunday Ticket and NFL+, is by far the most fan-friendly distribution model in all of sports and entertainment.”

“We will certainly challenge this decision because we believe that the class actions in this case are without merit and without foundation.”

The trial lasted three weeks and featured testimony from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

“Justice has been served. The verdict confirms the consumer protection of our class. It was a great day for consumers,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Bill Carmody.

In his closing remarks, Carmody showed an NFL memo from April 2017 that showed the league was exploring a world without a “Sunday Ticket” in 2017, where cable networks would air out-of-market games on Sunday afternoons not broadcast on Fox or CBS.

The jury of five men and three women deliberated for nearly five hours before reaching its decision.

Judge Philip S. Gutierrez is scheduled to hear post-trial motions on July 31, including the NFL’s request to have him rule in favor of the league because the judge determined the plaintiffs had not proven their case.

Payment of damages, any changes to the “Sunday Ticket” package and/or the way the NFL schedules its Sunday afternoon games would be suspended until all appeals are concluded.

The league argued it was entitled to sell the “Sunday Ticket” under its antitrust exemption for broadcasting. The plaintiffs said that only covered live broadcasts, not pay television.

Other professional sports leagues have also been keeping an eye on this deal, as they also offer out-of-market packages. One major difference, however, is that MLB, the NBA and the NHL market their packages to multiple distributors and share revenue per subscriber instead of receiving outright rights.

DirecTV offered the “Sunday Ticket” from its inception in 1994 through 2022. The league signed a seven-year deal with Google’s YouTube TV that began with the 2023 season.

The suit was filed in 2015 by the Mucky Duck sports bar in San Francisco, but it was dismissed in 2017. Two years later, the 9th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over California and eight other states, revived the case . Gutierrez ruled last year that the case could be handled as a class action.

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