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Sunday, July 14, 2024

NFL Explored Killing Sunday Ticket in Favor of Mass Cable Distribution

  • The $21 billion lawsuit is now in the hands of a jury.
  • More key revelations were made during closing arguments Thursday.
A detailed view of some NFL footballs before the Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars game at EverBank Stadium.
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

An eight-person jury is deliberating the $21 billion NFL Sunday Ticket trial after closing arguments were made in a Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday. 

At the heart of the lawsuit, originally filed in 2015, is that the league shouldn’t be allowed to sell all of its out-of-market games as a single package. New revelations from the case show that the league did consider an extreme alternative in ’17: selling those coveted broadcasts to various cable channels, not one single company. At the time, that was DirectTV. Now, YouTube pays $2 billion annually for the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket.

On Wednesday, plaintiffs presented a league memo titled “NFL New Frontier” from April 21, 2017, according to the Associated Press. In this alternate reality, CBS and Fox still would have broadcast regional games on Sunday afternoons. Instead of everything else going to Sunday Ticket, the remaining games would have been available on a variety of mainstream cable channels like FS1, ESPN, ESPN2, TBS, TNT, NFL Network, and CBS Sports Network. 

All of those networks are owned by companies that already had NFL media rights (and still do currently), except for TBS and TNT. In 2017, those channels were owned by Time Warner, which was in the process of being acquired by AT&T, which had recently purchased DirectTV, then NFL Sunday Ticket’s rights holder, in ’15. 

The memo stated that payments from Fox and CBS would drop 25% to $10 million per game, while the cable channels would pay $9 million per game. This was during the NFL’s previous media-rights deals, before agreeing to $110 billion deals that began last season.

Journey Isn’t Done

While it’s unknown how seriously the NFL considered its idea to kill Sunday Ticket in favor of multiple cable partners, the fact that the league took enough time and energy to create a proposal like that shows that team owners wanted to be prepared for all scenarios—perhaps in the wake of the lawsuit’s filing in 2015. The revelation follows a previous one from the case that the NFL shot down ESPN’s proposal to offer Sunday Ticket for $70, a huge drop from $350 YouTube TV subscribers paid in ’23, as it bid to potentially acquire the package’s rights.

For now, if the jury rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the NFL Sunday Ticket case is still likely far from over. The league will have the option of going to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, and even the Supreme Court, if necessary.

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