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NFL to Defend Sunday Ticket TV Deal Before the Supreme Court

Sean Dennison

The NFL might have to go long to win a legal battle involving its Sunday Ticket package.

The league is slated to file a petition to the Supreme Court on Feb. 7, 2020, in an attempt to reverse an appeals court decision earlier this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This response arises from an August 2019 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse a trial court dismissal case that alleged the Sunday Ticket package could violate the Sherman Antitrust Act.

NFL’s Sunday Ticket, offered by DirecTV, allows viewers to experience the league’s out-of-market games, or games that are broadcast via subscription service to viewers whose local markets do not air them. The antitrust issue comes into play since the NFL currently partners with DirecTV to exclusively broadcast out-of-market games via the Sunday Ticket package. DirecTV currently pays $1.5 billion for those rights.

The deal prevents individual teams from marketing their own games while forcing viewers to purchase a Sunday Ticket package to see their favorite out-of-town teams play, according to an August 2019 Sports Illustrated article. In other words, the Sunday Ticket restricts marketing competition among the NFL teams by consolidating telecast rights.

There is historical precedence for the case. The NCAA used to consolidate its teams and games, too, until colleges banded together and fought for legal jurisdiction over their own TV contracts. The end result of the ensuing case — 1984’s NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma — led to an increase in college games on TV and contributed to the ascent of ESPN, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Over the past year, there had been speculation over whether the NFL would opt-out of their current deal with DirecTV, but the league continued to stick with DirecTV after announcing their streaming plans in August.

Time will tell how this legal battle affects pricing — if the customers get their way, wider negotiations among individual teams could drive down prices for games — but for now, DirecTV currently offers the Sunday Ticket for a full-season price of $293.94, or, for the Sunday Ticket Max, a full-season price of $395.94.