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Monday, July 15, 2024

Jury Rules NFL Owes More Than $4 Billion in Sunday Ticket Antitrust Case

  • The suit claimed the NFL violated antitrust laws with its Sunday Ticket offering.
  • The league said it will appeal the ruling.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A jury in Los Angeles sided against the NFL on Thursday in the Sunday Ticket trial that could cost the league billions. The verdict was delivered in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California.

The league has been ordered to pay $96 million to bars that said they were overcharged for Sunday Ticket, and $4.7 billion to fans who paid for the streaming package. Under federal antitrust law, those damages are tripled, bringing the total to more than $14 billion.

The league said in a statement that it will “certainly” appeal the verdict, calling the suit “baseless and without merit.” The case could eventually end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s a great verdict for the consumers of America,” the lawyer for the plaintiffs said after the verdict. The lawyer, Bill Carmody, said the jury successfully ignored “the star power of the defendants.” Along with commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL owners like Jerry Jones testified in the trial.

The lawsuit was initially filed in 2015 by a San Francisco sports bar called the Mucky Duck, which claimed the league violated antitrust law by bundling all the out-of-market games and making it impossible to buy a one-team package. The case was dismissed in ’17 but reinstated in ’19. It has since become a class action suit made up of millions of bars, restaurants, and subscribers from June 17, 2011, through Feb. 7, 2023. The plaintiffs initially sought $7 billion in damages, which could have been tripled to $21 billion per federal law.

One of the key claims of the suit is that the league inflates the price of NFL Sunday Ticket. Today on YouTube TV, the package costs $349 per year. It was revealed during the trial that the league declined an ESPN proposal to take over the offering last season and price it at $70, and include single-team packages. It also came to light that the league had drafted a proposal in 2017 to ax Sunday Ticket entirely and move games to a number of cable channels. NFL lawyers and officials, including Roger Goodell, have argued in response that Sunday Ticket is a “premium product” that wasn’t intended to end up in every living room.

The jury ruled Thursday that those decisions by the NFL violated federal antitrust law.

The judge overseeing the case, U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez, had said the plaintiffs have overcomplicated the case and threatened to dismiss it. He still has the power to throw out the jury verdict and rule for the NFL as a matter of law.

“The way you have tried this case is far from simple,” Gutierrez said to the plaintiff’s attorneys. “This case has turned into 25 hours of depositions and gobbledygook. … This case has gone in a direction it shouldn’t have gone.”

“We are disappointed with the jury’s verdict today in the NFL Sunday Ticket class action lawsuit,” the league 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.”

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