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Jury orders NFL to pay billions in 'Sunday Ticket' case for violating antitrust laws

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

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

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

The lawsuit covered 2.4 million residential subscribers and 48,000 businesses in the United States who paid for the package of out-of-market games from the 2011 through 2022 seasons on DirecTV. The lawsuit claimed the league broke antitrust laws by selling its package of Sunday games at an inflated price. The subscribers also say the league restricted competition by offering “Sunday Ticket” only on a satellite provider.

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

Should the NFL end up paying damages, it could cost each of the 32 teams approximately $449.6 million.

“We are disappointed with the jury’s verdict today in the NFL Sunday Ticket class action lawsuit,” the league said in a statement. “We continue to believe that our media distribution strategy, which features all NFL games broadcast on free over-the-air television in the markets of the participating teams and national distribution of our most popular games, supplemented 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 contest this decision as we believe that the class action claims in this case are baseless and without merit.”

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

“Justice was done. The verdict upholds protection for the consumers in our class. It was a great day for consumers,” plaintiffs attorney Bill Carmody said.

During his closing remarks, Carmody showed an April, 2017, NFL memo that showed the league was exploring a world without “Sunday Ticket” in 2017, where cable channels would air Sunday afternoon out-of-market games not shown 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 did not prove their case.

Payment of damages, any changes to the “Sunday Ticket” package and/or the ways the NFL carries its Sunday afternoon games would be stayed until all appeals have been concluded.

The league maintained it had the right to sell “Sunday Ticket” under its antitrust exemption for broadcasting. The plaintiffs said that only covers over-the-air broadcasts and not pay TV.

Other professional sports leagues were also keeping an eye on this case since they also offer out-of-market packages. A major difference though is that MLB, the NBA and the NHL market their packages on multiple distributors and share in the revenue per subscriber instead of receiving an outright rights fee.

DirecTV had “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 lawsuit was originally filed in 2015 by the Mucky Duck sports bar in San Francisco but was dismissed in 2017. Two years later, the 9th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over California and eight other states, reinstated the case. Gutierrez ruled last year the case could proceed as a class action.

Copyright 2024 NPR

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]