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SPORTS

Class-Action Lawsuit against NFL by ‘Sunday Ticket’ Subscribers Gets Underway

LOS ANGELES  — A class-action lawsuit filed by “Sunday Ticket” subscribers claiming the NFL broke antitrust laws got underway in federal court Thursday with the league’s attorney telling jurors that fans have a choice when it comes to watching games and the “Sunday Ticket” package is a premium product.

“The case is about choice. This is a valuable, premium product. Think about all the choices available to fans. We want as many people as possible to watch the free broadcasts,” said Beth Wilkinson, who is representing the NFL.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2015 and has withstood numerous challenges, says the NFL broke antitrust law when it allowed DirecTV to exclusively sell the “Sunday Ticket” package of out-of-market Sunday afternoon games airing on CBS and Fox at what it says was an inflated price and restricted competition.

“NFL, Fox, CBS and DirecTV agreed to make an expensive toll road that very few people would be able to afford. Every single competitor in this scheme benefited,” Amanda Bonn, an attorney representing “Sunday Ticket” subscribers, said in her opening remarks Thursday.

DirecTV was the home of “NFL Sunday Ticket” from 1994 until 2022. YouTube will be in the second season this year of a seven-year deal after agreeing to the rights in December 2022.

The class-action case covers more than 2.45 million commercial and residential subscribers from 2012 to 2022 and seeks $7.1 billion in damages. Since damages are tripled under federal rules, the NFL could be liable for up to $21 billion if it loses.

The NFL contends “Sunday Ticket” is an add-on package for the league’s most-devoted and out-of-town fans, along with noting that all games for local teams are available on broadcast networks.

Steve Bornstein, a former NFL executive and the first president of NFL Network, said during afternoon testimony that “Sunday Ticket” was always set up so that it wouldn’t broadly hamper CBS and Fox’s local ratings.

Contracts between DirecTV and the NFL that were entered into evidence on Thursday showed language that “it will marketed and offered in a manner consistent as a high-quality premium subscription sports offering.”

“The NFL always wanted ‘Sunday Ticket’ to be an additional package. That is how it is was designed since its inception,” Bornstein said.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a longtime member of the league’s broadcast committee, are expected to testify in a trial that could last up to three weeks.

The trial could bring to light how much YouTube is paying the NFL for “Sunday Ticket” and if it is making money. There also will be documents filed that would show how much networks spend to produce an NFL game.

Bonn showed a 2020 term sheet by Fox Sports demanding the NFL ensure “Sunday Ticket” would be priced above $293.96 per season on streaming platforms in the 11-year rights deal it signed with the NFL in 2021 and that began in 2023. That was the price for the 2020 season.

When the “Sunday Ticket” contract was up for bid in 2022, ESPN wanted to offer the package on its streaming service for $70 per season along with offering a team-by-team product, according to an email shown by Bonn.

This is one of the rare occasions where the NFL has had a high-profile case go to court where league financial matters would become public without settling. In 2021, it settled with St. Louis, St. Louis County and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority for $790 million over the relocation of the Rams to Los Angeles.

The “Sunday Ticket” case attracted a large crowd of attorneys and media members to the courtroom of Judge Philip S. Gutierrez. An overflow room was eventually set up 10 minutes into opening statements.

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