NFL ordered to pay $4.7 billion in damages in 'Sunday Ticket' lawsuit

League: NFL

Posted on: 27 Jun, 2024 at 11:08 PM

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL plans to appeal a ruling by a federal jury in Los Angeles on Thursday that found the league liable for more than $4.7 billion in damages over antitrust violations related to DirecTV's "Sunday Ticket" packages.

The jury, after about five hours of deliberations across two days, voted unanimously that the NFL, DirecTV, CBS and Fox colluded to increase the price of the game packages.

The class-action lawsuit began in 2015 with a complaint filed by a San Francisco sports bar named the Mucky Duck that was dismissed in 2017. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later reinstated the case, which last year became a class action and covered more than 2.4 million residential subscribers and more than 48,000 businesses that purchased DirectTV's "Sunday Ticket" package of out-of-market games from the 2011 through 2022 seasons.

If the verdict stands, it would award $4.7 billion in damages to the residential class and $96 million to the commercial class.

The damages could increase to up to $12.3 billion due to federal laws that triple the amount in antitrust cases.

"It's a great verdict for consumers around America that this jury, despite the star power of the defendants, upheld the antitrust laws which are geared to protect consumers from overcharges," Bill Carmody, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told the Los Angeles Times. "Justice was served."

The plaintiffs argued that NFL teams pooling their broadcasts through "Sunday Ticket" on a satellite provider and selling the package at an inflated price violated antitrust laws in restricting competition.

The NFL argued it has an antitrust exemption for broadcasting that covers "Sunday Ticket," but the plaintiffs contended that applies to over-the-air broadcasts and not pay TV.

"Sunday Ticket" was offered on DirecTV from 1994-2022 before the NFL reached a seven-year contract with Google's YouTube TV that began in 2023.

The NFL's attorneys noted that it's the only major sports league to offer all local games on free, over-the-air TV. They also said that DirecTV controlled the "Sunday Ticket" package pricing, which was often made free to attract subscribers.

"We are disappointed with the jury's verdict today in the NFL Sunday Ticket class action lawsuit," the NFL 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. We thank the jury for their time and service and for the guidance and oversight from (U.S. District) Judge (Philip) Gutierrez throughout the trial."

Gutierrez could ask the league to consider possible structural changes in the "Sunday Ticket" package. The judge will hear post-trial motions on July 31. The league can contend to Gutierrez that the damages are excessive and unreasonable, and it can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and later to the U.S. Supreme Court.

--Field Level Media