• Loading stock data...
Sunday, June 16, 2024

NFL Faces High-Stakes $21 Billion Antitrust Battle Over Media Rights

  • An antitrust trial beginning this week could lead to big changes for NFL Sunday Ticket.
  • The league denies any wrongdoing and points to the out-of-market package expanding fan access to games.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is now facing one of the most significant legal challenges in years to its existing media model, with a trial now starting in Los Angeles threatening to render billions of dollars in damages to the league and upend how it distributes out-of-market games. 

Jury selection began Wednesday in a class action antitrust case nearly a decade in development, advancing on appearances in other courts before ultimately reaching the U.S. District Court. A group of more than 2.4 million residential and 48,000 commercial subscribers to NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV is asking a jury to find the league liable and award them as much as $7 billion in damages. That figure would then be tripled under federal rules, resulting in potentially a bill reaching $21 billion for the NFL.

The plaintiffs allege the current NFL Sunday Ticket structure artificially drives up prices, and point to costs now starting at $349 per year for the residential packages. If they prevail, NFL teams could be freed to strike their own individual and market-specific out-of-market rights deals, and consumers would likely get the ability to purchase individual games or team-specific packages. The league, conversely, is likely to present NFL Sunday Ticket as a premium-level product expanding consumers’ access to games. 

The case could also result in key figures such as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (above, left), Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Patriots owner Robert Kraft (above, right), and former CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus being called to testify, potentially opening a rare window into the inner workings of how the league develops key business contracts such as this one. 

The case also highlights some of the uniqueness of how the NFL manages its media rights. Some other major leagues have moved to create team-specific options for their out-of-market game packages. But the NFL has not allowed that, and that has continued even as the residential portion of NFL Sunday Ticket has moved to YouTube. The streamer is not a defendant in the lawsuit, and related claims against DirecTV are on hold pending arbitration. 

The YouTube deal is worth $14 billion over seven years, creating a situation that if a significant award is made to the plaintiffs, the economic value of that deal could essentially be negated.

Potentially Messy Situation

One possible scenario, however, is still a last-minute settlement. That’s because the dispute also sets up another test of the NFL’s tolerance for possibly embarrassing public disclosures.

In a trial setting, powerful figures such as commissioners and team owners are no longer in control, and it’s a dynamic the NFL and other major leagues have often sought to avoid, and why they often prefer in-house structures to resolve various disputes and render discipline. 

To that end, the NFL’s $820 million settlement with St. Louis officials over the Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles was struck about six weeks before a scheduled trial there. 

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Charles Barkley Announces Retirement From Television

Charles Barkley announced that the 2024-25 season would be his final season as an NBA commentator, capping off 25 years with Turner.

ESPN Bought Its Tiny Stanley Cup Desk at a Canadian Furniture Store

An ESPN spokesperson says the tight spot was chosen for its view of the ice.

NFL Declined ESPN Offer to Drastically Reduce Sunday Ticket Price

The NFL’s prospects aren’t looking good in court.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

How the US Open is Designed for Drama


Featured Today

Jan 3, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; General view of the NFL shield logo signage before the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.

Odds Stacked Against NFL in Multibillion-Dollar Sunday Ticket Trial

Why the class action trial does not look promising for the league.
Jan 7, 2024; San Francisco, California, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Jontay Porter (11) takes a three-point shot against the Golden State Warriors during the second half at Chase Center.
June 9, 2024

‘Bound to Happen’: The Age of the Sports Betting Scandal Has Arrived

A banishment, betting scheme, and guilty plea all in one scandal-filled span.
June 8, 2024

‘Experimental in Nature’: The Rapid, Confounding Rise of Streaming Bundles

Here’s why confusion continues to outweigh solutions in the streaming package boom.
June 2, 2024

The Nostalgia Market: Michael Jordan’s Memorabilia Remains Coveted, With Caveats

Due to scarcity, and sometimes, items’ undisclosed whereabouts, this world has limitations.
June 12, 2024

Paramount-Skydance Merger Off: Could Deal With WBD Be Revived?

Shari Redstone abruptly calls off potential merger discussions between the CBS Sports parent and Skydance Media.
June 12, 2024

Sage Steele Claims in Suit That Her Agents Prioritized Relationship With ESPN Over Her

She says CAA chose its relationship over ESPN over advocating for her.

How HOKA is Reimagining the NIL Relationship

HOKA, the renowned athletic footwear and apparel brand, is betting on a new reality with NIL.
June 11, 2024

USA Cricket Is on the Cusp of a Historic Win. But Who Can Watch?

On Wednesday, the U.S. will face the pre-tournament favorite, India.
June 11, 2024

ESPN Extension Could Set Up Shannon Sharpe As Stephen A. Smith’s Successor

Sharpe is writing one of the great career comebacks in sports TV history.
June 11, 2024

After Long-Term French Open Deal, What’s Next for TNT Sports?

A 10-year rights deal for the French Open immediately becomes the longest in Warner Bros. Discovery’s portfolio.
June 10, 2024

What Would TNT Sports Look Like Without the NBA? Here’s What We Know

Warner Bros. Discovery still has plenty of other sports rights.