A California U.S. District judge certified a $6 billion class action antitrust lawsuit brought on by individual subscribers and commercial establishments who subscribed to NFL Sunday Ticket after June 2011.
According to Reuters, the plaintiffs believe the NFL is violating antitrust laws by “unlawfully limiting televised games and driving up the cost of its Sunday Ticket package.”
The latest development in the case came from Judge Philip Gutierrez, who certified the class action suit, allowing it to move forward to a trial that’s currently set for February 2024. The lawsuit is split between individual subscribers and commercial establishments, and a report indicated there could be over 2.4 million people in the residential class and about 48,000 in the commercial class.
An NFL spokesperson downplayed the plaintiffs’ claims, stating, “We are reviewing the judge’s order. We continue to believe that the plaintiffs’ claims have no merit and will vigorously defend our position in this matter.” In addition, NFL lawyers have “denied liability and argued the plaintiffs’ lawyers failed to meet certain legal requirements to form classes.”
Last August, Yahoo explained the reasoning behind filing the lawsuit. The issue stems from plaintiffs believing that the NFL prevents teams from competing with each other in selling broadcasting rights, therefore violating antitrust laws. And the only way to watch out-of-market games of their favorite team is to pay hundreds of dollars for a single package that consists of every Sunday afternoon out-of-market game.
As Yahoo notes, what plaintiffs are looking for is a situation where individual teams could bid to broadcast in any market so people in that market could watch those games on a local network. Something that, under NFL rules, cannot happen as a home market is exclusive to that local team for “75 miles in every direction from the exterior corporate limits of such city.”
It seems as if the NFL wanted to fight this case; they would win. The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 amended antitrust laws to allow sports leagues to pool their TV rights and sell them in one package, something the NFL has done since the 60s. Maybe there’s some wiggle room because, at the time, the Sports Broadcasting Act didn’t deal with out-of-market rights, but it’s a similar mindset.
That being said, now that this class action suit is moving forward and a trial is set to begin in a year, if the NFL doesn’t feel like entering discovery or having the hassle of fighting this case, there’s always a possibility of a settlement in between now and then.