NFL trial to begin this week in Los Angeles over Sunday Ticket antitrust claim

By Sam Farmer

The NFL is headed to trial in Los Angeles this week, the result of a lawsuit filed nine years ago by a group of NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers who say the league has broken antitrust law by limiting how individual teams can sell broadcasting rights.

Jury selection is set to begin Wednesday in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez, who last year certified the litigation as a class-action suit on behalf of more than 2.4 million residential subscribers and more than 48,000 restaurants, bars and other commercial establishments between the 2011 and 2022 seasons.

Sunday Ticket, which provides subscribers access to all the Fox and CBS broadcasts of Sunday games, used to be available through DirecTV but now is YouTube TV. The basic price is $349 per season, although that varies significantly depending on discounts and promotions.

The plaintiffs contend the NFL’s way of showing games on TV, specifically the premium Sunday Ticket product, harmed competition, limited choices for viewers and made prices higher than they should have been. They say the league forces people to buy the premium Sunday Ticket product as the only way to access certain out-of-market broadcasts.

The NFL counters the system is working and good for consumers, and the TV numbers reflect that. NFL games accounted for 93 of the top 100 most-watched TV shows last year.

Unlike other sports leagues, local fans are able to watch every one of their team’s home games on free, over-the-air TV. From the league’s perspective, Sunday Ticket is for ardent fans and akin to people subscribing to HBO if they’re fans of “Game of Thrones.”

What’s more, the league believes allowing the 32 NFL teams to negotiate their own out-of-market broadcast deals, either as individual teams or divisions, would be chaotic and ultimately damaging to the overall product.

The trial, which is expected to last until the end of June, could feature some high-profile people on the witness stand, among them NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.