NFL 'Sunday Ticket' lawsuit heads to court

NFL Sunday Ticket at the Super Bowl LIII Experience on January 29, 2019 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, GA.

A class-action lawsuit filed by "Sunday Ticket" subscribers claiming the NFL broke antitrust laws began Thursday in federal court, the Associated Press reported. The league's attorney argued that fans have choices for 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 represents the NFL.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015, contends the NFL violated antitrust laws by allowing DirecTV to exclusively sell the "Sunday Ticket" package of out-of-market Sunday afternoon games on CBS and Fox at inflated prices, restricting competition.

"NFL, Fox, CBS and DirecTV agreed to make an expensive toll road that very few people could afford. Every single competitor in this scheme benefitted," Amanda Bonn, an attorney representing "Sunday Ticket" subscribers, said in her opening remarks.

DirecTV's history and YouTube's new deal

DirecTV was the "NFL Sunday Ticket" home from 1994 until 2022. YouTube is now in the second season of a seven-year deal for the package, having agreed to the rights in December 2022.

The class-action case covers over 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. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a longtime member of the league's broadcast committee, are expected to testify in the case, which could last up to three weeks.

The trial could disclose how much YouTube pays the NFL for "Sunday Ticket" and whether it is profitable. Documents showing network expenses for producing NFL games are also expected to be revealed. Bonn presented a 2020 term sheet by Fox Sports requiring the NFL to ensure "Sunday Ticket" would be priced above $293.96 per season on streaming platforms in the 11-year rights deal signed in 2021.

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 and provide 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 Judge Philip S. Gutierrez's courtroom. Ten minutes into opening statements, an overflow room was eventually set up.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.