The networks that broadcast NFL games will no longer be required to answer for the way those broadcasts are bundled and sold by the NFL and DirecTV.
Via the Hollywood Reporter, NBC, CBS, FOX, and ESPN no longer appear as defendants in a class action that challenges the manner in which the league and its satellite partner market the NFL Sunday Ticket product.
This doesn’t mean that the networks will be immune from involvement in the case. For now, though, none of them face potential financial liability.
The lawsuits began last June, not long after the settlement of a challenge regarding the NHL’s distribution of games via DirecTV. Within a month, at least three class actions were filed. Now, all pending lawsuits have been consolidated into one case.
Apparently, the networks were added as some point in order to prevent consolidation, since the lawyers who filed the individuals cases presumably didn’t want to give up control over their own litigation. Once those efforts failed, the networks became unnecessary to the broader attack on the league’s exclusive distribution of out-of-market games through the Sunday Ticket package.
A key threshold question once the case gets to the substance and not the procedure will be whether the federal broadcast antitrust exemption applies to the distribution of out-of-market games. If it doesn’t, the end result of the litigation could be a requirement that each team be permitted to cut its own deal regarding the availability of games beyond the traditional broadcast marketplace, requiring (allowing) teams like the Cowboys and Packers and Steelers to make a lot more by selling, for example, streaming rights to their games beyond the markets where they otherwise are available via over-the-air broadcasts. (The other side of the coin would be that nationally unpopular teams — and they know who they are without me listing them — would make a lot less.)
If that happens, there would be dramatic changes to the way that football fans consume games that aren’t televised over FCC-regulated network affiliates in their local areas. If, for example, a Saints fan only wanted to see Saints games, the Saints fan would be able to buy the ability to watch all Saints games not otherwise televised for free in that fan’s geographic region. The price should be a lot less than buying the entire Sunday Ticket package, which is currently the only way for fans of one team to see that team’s games only.
The end result for the league would be dramatic fluctuations in the money the various teams make from broadcasting games. Absent a commitment to share among all 32 teams whatever any of them earns by selling out-of-market satellite, cable, or streaming rights on their own, it could create a significant disparity in revenue between the most and least nationally popular clubs.