Everything You Need to Know About the NFL’s $6 Billion Sunday Ticket Class-Action Lawsuit




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In September, the NFL is set to hand over its prized Sunday Ticket package of weekly football games to Google’s subscription YouTube service, a monumental change that signifies how far cord cutting and streaming video have come. 

But in the background of such a significant change is a lawsuit that has been following the NFL and DirecTV, the previous distributor of Sunday Ticket, for the last few years. 

The lawsuit claims the NFL’s Sunday Ticket bundle is preventing individual teams from striking their own broadcast arrangements, forcing fans and businesses like sports bars to pay for the entire package to catch one out-of-state game. The NFL has dismissed the allegation and asked for a summary judgment and for the case to be thrown out. 

In February, a judge granted class action status to the case, actually separating it to two class action groups – one for individuals and a second for businesses. A trial is expected to kick off in 2024. If the NFL and DirecTV lose, it could be on the hook for $ 6 billion. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the Sunday Ticket legal drama. 

What is Sunday Ticket?

Sunday Ticket is a package that, until later this year, has exclusively been available to DirecTV customers. The package is basically a buffet of all out-of-market NFL games on Sunday, with local games broadcast through different deals and networks. It costs a few hundred dollars for households and a few thousand dollars for commercial establishments like bars or restaurants. 

How did this kick off?

In 2015, a proposed class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of San Francisco pub The Mucky Duck against the NFL and DirecTV, which had just re-signed an agreement to stay in partnership the year prior. Mucky Duck claimed that the league was charging excessive rates to show out-of-market games via DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket package. 

The agreement meant there was less competition for the airing of out-of-market games, the plaintiff argued. 

While the suit stemmed from one bar, the class action proposal meant many more parties have joined. 

How big is this suit?

There are 2.4 million people in the residential class action suit and 48,000 in the commercial class. 

That’s a lot of people.

The NFL is pretty popular. 

Why target the NFL?

The original suit made the argument that the arrangement between DirecTV and the NFL was unique in the four major professional sports. The other three, the NBA, NHL and MLB, don’t have an exclusive arrangement with a single provider offering out-of-market games. 

What does the NFL and DirecTV say?

The defendants deny the idea that Sunday Ticket constitutes an antitrust violation, and have argued that the case fails to provide evidence to back up that claim. 

Over the years, the NFL and DirecTV have tried to get the case thrown out or moved to arbitration. 

They actually succeeded at one point. In 2017, a California federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, buying the defendants’ argument that every game is available to watch every week somewhere, so there isn’t a blackout. 

The NFL declined to provide any updated comments on the situation. DirecTV did not respond to a request for comment. 

Wait, so the lawsuit is dead?

Nope (otherwise, this explainer would be a lot shorter). The suit was revived in 2019 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, according to Bloomberg Law. The court found that the licensing deals were allegedly part of “a single conspiracy to limit the output of NFL telecasts.”

Since then, many of the decisions have favored the plaintiffs. 

In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a bid from the NFL and DirecTV (then owned by AT&T) to review the antitrust suit and overturn the 2019 decision. 

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that the ruling didn’t mean it was endorsing the plaintiffs’ claims. He opened the door to reviewing the case if the defendants end up losing in a summary judgment or trial. 

Any more recent updates?

Yes. In February, a U.S District Judge in Los Angeles certified the case as a class action against the NFL and its teams. That is a big step for the plaintiffs’ attorneys, who must consolidate and organize the myriad of individual and business claims. 

When does the trial start?

It’s slated to begin in February 2024.

What’s going on with Sunday Ticket in the meantime?

Google’s YouTube is set to take over Sunday Ticket for the upcoming season after striking a new deal reportedly valued at $2 billion. 

Fans can pay for Sunday Ticket as an add-on to their existing YouTube TV service, or pay for it a la carte as a YouTube Primetime Channel. The add-on starts at $299 per season, while the standalone service starts at $399. 

How does this suit affect the new deal?

It doesn’t. YouTube isn’t a defendant in this suit. It’s unclear whether a ruling would change how the NFL strikes its distribution deals. Given how many years this could take through trials, appeals and a possible Supreme Court review, we may not get an answer for a while.

Correction: The story initially had the wrong year for when the trial is expected to start. It’s slated to begin in February 2024.

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