NFL Ordered to Pay $4.7 Billion in Sunday Ticket Trial Verdict


A federal jury in Los Angeles Thursday found the NFL liable in the Sunday Ticket class action and awarded the plaintiffs more than $4 billion in damages. The NFL can appeal to U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez that the damages awards are excessive and unreasonable; the league can also appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and later the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling could compel major changes to the league’s broadcasting arrangements, which last year accounted for 93 of the year’s 100 most-watched TV broadcasts in the U.S.

The class action is on behalf of more than 2.4 million residential subscribers and more than 48,000 restaurants, bars and other commercial establishments that purchased Sunday Ticket. According to journalist and trial observer Meghann Cuniff, the residential class has been awarded $4.7 billion, while the commercial class was awarded another $96 million. The plaintiffs insist NFL teams pooling their broadcasts through the Sunday Ticket, which is available through YouTube TV for $349/year (or less with discounts), violated antitrust law.

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The NFL disputed the finding. “We are disappointed with the jury’s verdict today in the NFL Sunday Ticket class action lawsuit,” the league said in a statement. “We will certainly contest this decision as we believe that the class action claims in this case are baseless and without merit. We thank the jury for their time and service and for the guidance and oversight from Judge Gutierrez throughout the trial.”

Unlike teams in other major pro leagues, NFL teams provide local fans the chance to watch games on TV for free. However, out-of-town fans need to buy the Sunday Ticket. If NFL teams compete with one another in broadcasting deals, some teams might strike deals to broadcast games in out-of-town markets and perhaps make those games available to watch for free or at least for less than the cost of the Sunday Ticket.

The NFL raised several counterarguments, but none persuaded the jurors. One argument concerned the Sports Broadcasting Act (SBA), which exempts professional football, basketball, baseball and hockey leagues from antitrust scrutiny when they negotiate national TV deals for games watched freely and over-the air. The SBA doesn’t exempt the subscription-based Sunday Ticket from antitrust scrutiny, but the league maintained the Sunday Ticket is part of a broader TV arrangement that includes games broadcast locally free and over-the-air.

The NFL also warned that if teams were compelled to compete in the licensing of out-of-town broadcasts, it would diminish the number of televised games available to fans. While the Sunday Ticket carries a cost, it ensures that fans can watch any game on TV regardless of their location in the U.S. If out-of-town fans were instead reliant on their favorite team finding a broadcast partner, some could lose TV access to certain games.

In addition to appealing, the NFL will need to consider new broadcasting arrangements that feature teams competing in the sale of broadcasts. The league has maintained that consumers will be worse off without the Sunday Ticket but has economic incentives to ensure the NFL continues its broadcasting dominance—even if that means exploring new ways of teams televising games to out-of-town fans.

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