NFL Sunday Ticket Might Be Illegal, Major Changes Could Come From Anti-Trust Lawsuit

Over the past year, there has been a lot of speculation on whether the NFL would opt-out of their current deal with AT&T, which would allow them to offer a more competitive streaming package for the 2019 season.

Money talks, and the league decided it was unwilling to forgo the $1.5 billion annually that they get paid by DirecTV for the exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, the league’s out-of-market package until 2022.

Now, a newly revived lawsuit could put the future of NFL Sunday Ticket — and possibly how NFL media rights are handled in limbo.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court’s decision to dismiss a case against the NFL by Sunday Ticket subscribers. The lawsuit claims that by limiting out-of-market games to a single provider, in this case DirecTV, the league is in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

In an article in Sports Illustrated, Sports and Entertainment Attorney Michael McCann states:

The alleged antitrust problem with the Sunday Ticket—and, more broadly, with the NFL combining the broadcasting of games into bundled deals with NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN—is that it precludes individual NFL teams from competing with one another in the broadcasting of games to out-of-town markets.

Fans can thus be deprived of the chance to watch out-of-market games on “free” TV channels, meaning their local NBC, CBS and Fox affiliates. Also, local affiliates and regional sports networks—as well as companies that pay for commercials to air on broadcasts—are denied the chance to bid for those games.

While he believes the case has merit, the league is in the best position to settle. Both MLB and NHL settled lawsuits over their out-of-market packages, which resulted in a reduced price for their streaming services. Both leagues were also required to introduced a single team package where you can pay a lower price to stream just a single team’s games for the season.

If they don’t though, McCann says that the “notoriously private” league would have to share contracts, emails, and documents with plaintiffs. And if they lose, individual NFL teams may have to sell their out-of-market rights individually — instead of at the league level.