Pile on: NFL Sunday Ticket monopoly lawsuits snowball


Michelle Clancy

| 17 August 2015

NFL Sunday Ticket, which offers access to all out-of-market American football games during the season, is a must-have for any sports bar but some establishments are fighting back against what they see as a monopoly on access.

Hard on the heels of an individual lawsuit brought on the same grounds, a proposed class-action suit on behalf of all commercial establishments, including restaurants and sports bars, has been filed on grounds of antitrust against the NFL and DirecTV.

The suit alleges that agreements giving DirecTV the sole right to distribute out-of-market NFL games (those not shown on a local or national broadcast) are illegal. The NFL is the only major US sports league that distributes out-of-market games exclusively through a single provider.

"Fans love watching NFL teams compete on the football field," said Kellie Lerner of Robins Kaplan LLP, the lead attorney for the case. "Unfortunately, when it comes to the live broadcasts of these games, the NFL doesn't seem to like competition that benefits its fans."

Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League all offer out-of-market packages through multiple providers, including Time Warner, DISH Network and others.

DirecTV charges commercial subscribers as much as $120,000 per year for access to the Sunday Ticket. Through its latest agreement with the NFL, DirecTV paid the league $1.5 billion for exclusive out-of-market broadcasting rights in 2015 alone.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants violated antitrust law both through a horizontal conspiracy among all NFL teams (to bundle their broadcast rights together) and a vertical conspiracy among the NFL teams, the NFL and DirecTV (to offer out-of-market games exclusively through DirecTV).

"The NFL and DirecTV are, according to our lawsuit, charging an artificially inflated premium to Sunday Ticket subscribers," said Lerner. "This lawsuit seeks to level the playing field and give subscribers access to the games they want under the fair, competitive conditions that our antitrust laws demand."