NFL Hit With $4.7 Billion Damages in Sunday Ticket Trial

By Ali Juell, Rachel Graf and Maia Spoto | June 28, 2024

The National Football League was hit with about $4.7 billion in damages — which stands to be tripled to $14 billion under federal law — after losing a jury trial over anticompetitive features of its Sunday Ticket broadcast package.

A jury in Los Angeles sided Thursday with football fans who claimed the league conspired with DirecTV to raise the price of subscriptions to watch out-of-market games. The NFL and its teams made the unusual decision to fight the consumer class-action lawsuit at trial instead of negotiating a settlement.

The central claim was that the league and the digital TV service had an arrangement that allowed them to force viewers to pay for out-of-market games even when their team wasn’t playing — and charge higher prices.

The verdict capped a three-week trial and followed less than a full day of jury deliberations. A league spokesperson called the verdict disappointing and said in a statement the NFL plans to appeal.

The league’s distribution strategy is “by far the most fan friendly distribution model in all of sports and entertainment,” the spokesperson said.

Jurors awarded $96.9 million in damages for commercial subscribers including sports bars and $4.61 billion for residential customers. Antitrust cases rarely make it to trial because they are so high stakes: Damages are subject to being tripled following a judgment under US law. Damages in the Sunday Ticket case were estimated by plaintiffs at close to $7 billion.

“It’s a great verdict for consumers around America,” said Bill Carmody, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was among the witnesses who defended the league at trial. Goodell testified that the subscription fee was solely determined by DirecTV.

But during closing arguments, a lawyer for the fans said that’s a “company line” and that a distribution model on basic cable would double the average game distribution.

NFL attorneys countered that the league’s current strategy is pro-competitive because it allows networks to invest in high-quality broadcasts and lends to revenue sharing between teams.

The NFL also has argued that exclusive TV deals are protected by the Sports Broadcasting Act, which the league said “grants an antitrust exemption for the sale of ‘all or any part’ of broadcasting rights.”

In the past, the NFL has avoided adverse verdicts by settling antitrust cases before they make it to trial, including a $790 million deal with the city of St. Louis in 2021 over the Rams’ move to Los Angeles.

“They’ve been successful this far because they were able to recognize when they were at risk,” said Helen Drew, a sports law professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

“The downside is humongous,” Drew added. “It’s not a small number — even for the NFL.”

DirecTV, which has denied wrongdoing, wasn’t on trial because it persuaded the judge in 2021 to send customer claims against the company into closed-door arbitration.

The judge who presided over the trial could potentially still rule to slash the jury’s verdict and enter a judgment in the NFL’s favor.

The case is In re National Football Leagues Sunday Ticket Antitrust Litigation, 2:15-ml-02668, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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