NFL must face trial in ‘Sunday Ticket’ class action, US judge rules

Jan 12 (Reuters) – The National Football League must face a multibillion-dollar trial in February over the distribution of its exclusive “Sunday Ticket” telecast package of games, after a U.S. judge on Thursday declined to throw out the class-action case.

Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez ruled that a nationwide class of residential and commercial Sunday Ticket subscribers can move ahead with claims that the NFL long has curbed competition for the sale of game telecasts.

Sunday Ticket, previously available on DirecTV but now carried by Google’s YouTube TV, provides out-of-market games that are not otherwise available for free in local markets on CBS or Fox networks. Google and DirecTV are not defendants.

The plaintiffs contend that the NFL’s business deal for distributing the package has artificially inflated its price, in violation of U.S. antitrust law.

Gutierrez’s ruling rejecting the NFL’s bid for summary judgment paves the way for a Feb. 22 trial, where alleged damages have been estimated at $6 billion. The commercial plaintiffs include bars, hotels and restaurants.

Representatives for the NFL and attorneys for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The NFL in late 2022 reached an agreement with YouTube TV to carry Sunday Ticket for residential subscribers until 2030. The NFL reached a separate deal with another entity for commercial subscribers.

Gutierrez long has overseen the litigation. He previously had ruled for the NFL and dismissed the case, but an appeals court in 2019 reinstated the litigation.

The judge in February certified the residential and commercial subscriber classes. An expert’s report from the plaintiffs estimated at least 2.4 million members in the residential class. The commercial class has about 48,000 members.

In seeking to knock out the case, lawyers for the NFL argued in July that exclusive licensing agreements are “presumptively legal” and that the plaintiffs had not identified evidence of an antitrust conspiracy.

Gutierrez in his ruling said the NFL’s agreements with DirecTV and broadcast networks “are all designed to protect their piece of the conspiracy from intrusion from the other pieces.”

It’s up to a jury to decide whether the various deals “were designed to maintain market power by reducing the number of telecasts available of the games,” Gutierrez said.

The case is In re: National Football League’s “Sunday Ticket” Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, 2:15-ml-02668.

Read the original Reuters article.