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Thursday, July 25, 2024
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Stakes Rise in NFL Sunday Ticket Trial As Goodell, Jones Take Stand

  • Roger Goodell and Jerry Jones are scheduled to testify early this week in the high-profile case.
  • If plaintiffs win, how fans watch games on Sunday afternoons could change.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The stakes continue to rise in the NFL Sunday Ticket trial, with some of the league’s biggest figures set to testify this week and the case moving deeper into the core arguments surrounding the out-of-market game package. 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (above, left) testified Monday in the Los Angeles–based trial, with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (above, right) following the same day. But beyond these bold-faced names, the central arguments on both sides of NFL Sunday Ticket are now being laid bare in court.

Each Side’s Argument

Plaintiffs are arguing that the NFL’s strategy of bundling out-of-market rights violates antitrust law and drives up prices for consumers—and are seeking as much as $7 billion in damages that could then be tripled under federal rules. To that end, testimony has already revealed that ESPN proposed cutting the normal $349 price of NFL Sunday Ticket to just $70 for the 2023 season, a move that likely would have soared subscriptions. 

The NFL, however, contends that NFL Sunday Ticket is a premium product existing only on the top of the league’s standard Sunday afternoon game coverage offered by Fox and CBS, and complementing that coverage rather than supplanting it. Those two networks collectively pay more than $4.3 billion annually for their NFL rights, and those deals are predicated on extensive broadcast reach that has allowed the league to become by far the most popular programming on U.S. television, regardless of genre.

As a result, the league is reluctant to change the model of NFL Sunday Ticket and create a potential ripple effect through the rest of its media portfolio. 

“We have been clear throughout that [NFL Sunday Ticket] is a premium product, not just on pricing but quality,” Goodell said during cross-examination. “Fans make that choices whether they wanted it or not. I’m sure there were fans who said it was too costly.”

Given the polar opposition of those positions, the already-high stakes of the case continue to rise. If the plaintiffs win, how fans watch NFL games on Sunday afternoons could change significantly. One such change could include the development of single-team packages for out-of-market viewing, something seen in other leagues, but not for NFL Sunday Ticket. A plaintiff win, however, would likely be appealed by the league. 

Greater Threats?

The courtroom setting itself presents a more unusual situation for the NFL, as ordinarily, it’s in full control of almost every setting in which it operates. Here, it’s the judge who’s in charge, and the league moving to more openly aggressive tactics could backfire. 

Meanwhile, industry sources tell Front Office Sports that part of the NFL’s impetus to fight this case and not settle is not only about confidence in its position, but also a desire to not invite further class action challenges on other issues. 

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