Appeals court revives antitrust lawsuit against NFL, DirecTV

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Multiple aspects of the NFL Sunday Ticket package seems to constitute a violation of antitrust laws. One specific aspect of that arrangement continues to be challenged in court — and a federal appeals court issued a key ruling on Tuesday against the NFL and DirecTV.

The full ruling and opinion, all 44 pages of it, can be read here. The goal of this remainder of this blurb will be to translate those 44 pages into English, or something close to it.

The case, which had been dimissed by a federal district court, alleges that the Sunday Ticket package eliminates competition in a given market for the live telecast of NFL games. Absent the global, buy-all-or-buy-none Sunday Ticket option, the NFL’s teams could make individual games available through other platforms, from free TV to cable to satellite to Internet, competing against each other and making the specific game(s) that a given customer wants to watch easier and cheaper to obtain. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided to reinstate the case, and to allow it to proceed.

It’s a potentially significant development, given that (as observed by the appeals court) the NFL’s broadcast antitrust exemption does not apply to cable, satellite, or Internet broadcasts. This means that any effort by the NFL to sell global rights to cable, satellite, and/or Internet companies will be subject to potential antitrust liability.

When this argument was made several decades ago against the NCAA, which is not protected from antitrust liability when it comes to the broadcasting of college football games, it led to the proliferation of televised college football. If the current litigation against the NFL prevails, it’s unclear what will happen next.

The league could retain its current market-by-market TV arrangements, relying on the antitrust exemption to justify broadcating a handle of Sunday afternoon games. Alternatively, the league could embrace the potential revenue gains that would come from making all games available in one or more available platforms in every market.

Whether that would offset the $1.5 billion per year that the league receives from DirecTV remains to be seen. Whether that would cause the revenue-sharing arrangement among all teams to potentially implode also would fall into the to-be-determined category.

But if, in the end, the teams whose games are not available for free in a given market could sell the rights to watch those games one by one, without customers committing to all out-of-market games and all weeks by purchasing Sunday Ticket, the customers win — because the customers would get to purchase only what the customers want to watch, getting for example all Seahawks games in Cincinnati without having to pay for any Jaguars, Titans, and Lions games.

It could take many more years for this to play out in court. Indeed, it took more than eight months for the current case to go from briefs and oral arguments to a final decision. But a business model that could be a plain-sight antitust violation remains under legal attack, and the winner could be anyone who simply wants to watch one team’s games without having to buy all of them.

30 responses to “Appeals court revives antitrust lawsuit against NFL, DirecTV

  1. My fondest desire is to have the same capability with the NFL as I have with MLB.tv. I ‘ve purchased the entire season for my favorite MLB team and I’m not saddled with having to purchase the games of the other 29 teams. Aside from that, I can’t even get the “Sunday Ticket” capability with UVerse even though AT&T owns DirecTV.

  2. each team should be able to sell their season’s worth of games, for streaming at the very least, to whomever that wants to buy them.

    as someone who owns the Sunday Ticket via DirecTV, i must say it kinda sucks having to rely on them during days that it rains or snows.

  3. Give options for team specific packages.

    NFL wants to know why the ratings are down? Often time there are fantastic 1pm matchups that we all miss while jets vs jaguars or some other boring game is broadcast due to location.

  4. You would think with all the online live tv services and ability to VPN to anywhere in the world, the folks at Directv (At&T), might be hesitant to cut such a big check. The NFL would make much more money spreading its services around, and with so many stadiums funded by taxpayer dollars, it’s crap that it’s a select package that costs over $300.

  5. Be careful what you wish for. Do you really think that the NFL would lose money on not being able to sell you the whole NFL ticket? They will just make a package of your individual team just as expensive as the whole Sunday ticket so you would get a lot less for just about the same price you are paying now!

  6. “But if, in the end, the teams whose games are not available for free in a given market could sell the rights to watch those games one by one, without customers committing to all out-of-market games and all weeks by purchasing Sunday Ticket, the customers win — because the customers would get to purchase only what the customers want to watch”
    Well I wouldn’t say for sure the customer wins, they could just as easily charge 29.99 per game like a lot of ppv and then if you end up having to pay for 12 games(the other 4 we will say are national or playing your local team) then you’ve already spent more to watch just those 12 than you would have to get the full Sunday ticket. A la carte is never cheaper than a bundle/package.

  7. How much revenue does the NFL lose to pirating? You don’t have to be exceptionally tech-savvy to use a VPN and the internet to pirate any game you want for free. It’s really quite easy. How many people who now pirate games would prefer to pay for the game(s) they wish to stream if the cost were reasonable? How many future fans would choose to pay instead of pirating? The NFL is being stupid here.

  8. I think that the consumer should have the option of buying individual games, or a package deal for their favorite team(s). I have had the package since its inception, and at that time it started out at around 99.00. Now, Directv (AT&T) makes people get Sunday Ticket Max (an extra 100.00 on top of the base package) in order to get the Red Zone Channel. LOL

    I play a lot of Fantasy and DFS, so I get the Max Package. However, for the majority of people, it is completely overpriced, as they have little to no interest in other teams. Plus, when you factor in the Sunday network games, Thursday Night, Sunday Night, Monday Night etc, it’s even more of a ripoff.

  9. I’d be happy if networks just had more flexibility. The whole “secondary market” thing really needs to at least be revisited. It would also be nice if teams were confident enough in their own local appeal to risk having a second game airing during their timeslot. We miss a lot of good 1 pm AFC games just because the Redskins have a home game.

  10. $14.99 per game in Europe last I checked. I’d gladly pay that. He’ll, I’d pay the full NFL Sunday ticket price if not tied to DirecTV. As of now, they get none of my money.

  11. bigdbaby says:
    August 14, 2019 at 11:08 am
    Be careful what you wish for. Do you really think that the NFL would lose money on not being able to sell you the whole NFL ticket? They will just make a package of your individual team just as expensive as the whole Sunday ticket so you would get a lot less for just about the same price you are paying now!

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Exactly. I never pay full price for ST, and in fact, it cost me -$480 last year. They gave it to me at no charge, and credited my account $40 a month for 12 months. The NFL isn’t going to do any of that.

  12. The idea that a team’s market has geographic boundaries is outdated. Just because I moved to DC doesn’t mean I’m suddenly a fan of DC’s football team. Do all Packers fans live in Green Bay? Why limit a team’s fans to only those who live in/near the city; especially when you are trying to grow the game globally?

    Fans should have more choice in the games they can watch. $300 – price of Sunday Ticket- to watch your team play approximately 10-12 games is outrageous. (Most teams have several nationally televised games).

  13. I can’t explain how frustrating the current arrangement is for my area. I couldn’t live any more in the center of the Bengals market (southcentral ohio). I ended up cancelling my Spectrum because most Sundays I have to go somewhere to watch the game because the Steelers (6 hours away) or the Browns (5 hours away) are on instead. What sense does it make that I can’t watch the team closest to me without buying DirecTv?

  14. Well consumers are forced to buy plenty of things they have zero need for like certain news channels that are beaten nightly by the Cartoon Network. With that said, the 9th Circus has a nasty habit of being overturned quite abit.

  15. would be pretty interesting if this causes the value of the packed Direct TV rights to go *down* in the future, which could cause the salary cap to also go down. Most teams seem to count on a 10m increase year-to-year for future planning. A dip would be quite a hit to teams that manage their caps that way.

  16. Count me in the group that would LOVE for this to free up more options for the NFL’s consumers.

    I would very much like to purchase ONLY the games I want to watch. The idea of forking out $400 for all the games is ridiculous when, I have zero interest in watching any games (pre-playoffs), that don’t involve my team.

    I would easily compromise with being able to purchase a “team package”.

    These approaches make too much sense so, probably never happen….

  17. iejdaniel says:
    August 14, 2019 at 11:34 am

    Exactly. I never pay full price for ST, and in fact, it cost me -$480 last year. They gave it to me at no charge, and credited my account $40 a month for 12 months. The NFL isn’t going to do any of that.
    ==========================================

    Yes, I do the same thing, but why should the customer have to call, and go through a “used car salesman” process to get a decent deal? LOL They should set a fair price for the complete package for everyone. Plus, the CEO of AT&T has shown a willingness to let customers walk, so they may start tightening the screws on price cuts/freebies. Just my opinion…FWIW.

  18. If the league sold a la carte games $10 each streamed anywhere in the world they would more than recoup anything lost with the demise of the directv deal. Even at $15 each people wouldn’t be complaining much.

    Right now with the corporate monopoly directv has I believe the NFL is losing revenue compared to a lower cost offering on many platforms. I never have and never will get directv. I know many people who also will not do so.

  19. I remember watching whatever game I wanted on my 10′ satellite dish 20+ years ago for free. Then “The Package” came along @ $99. After that…the 10″ dish became an annual bird nest!

  20. I get almost all out of market games for $5 extra a month. It helps that my cable provider is national, and has affiliate stations showing the NFL package across the country. I can’t see Cincinatti vs Jacksonville, but I don’t want to, either.

  21. Guys, you do realize you can get Sunday Ticket without having DirecTV right? I have Sunday Ticket on my Apple TV and xfinity is my cable provider. I absolutely hate DirecTV service but unfortunately I pay the $250 or $300 a year for the standalone app.

    It’s available on AppleTV, Roku, Fire Stick, PlayStation and XBox

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