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NFL loses ‘Sunday Ticket’ trial, ordered to pay $4 billion by federal jury

NFL loses 'Sunday Ticket' trial, ordered to pay $4 billion by federal jury

The NFL has been ordered to pay $4.7 billion in residential class damages and $96 million in commercial class damages by a federal jury in a class action lawsuit filed against the league by subscribers to "NFL Sunday Ticket." The verdict was first reported by journalist Meghann Cuniff.

The lawsuit argued that the NFL, its teams and its network partners (DirecTV, CBS, ESPN and Fox) violated antitrust rules by working together to limit competition and sell the out-of-market TV package at an inflated price.

Plaintiffs included more than 2.4 million residential subscribers and more than 48,000 restaurants, bars and other commercial establishments that purchased a subscription to "Sunday Ticket." The lawsuit was originally filed in 2015 on behalf of San Francisco's Mucky Duck sports bar, alleging that DirecTV, CBS, ESPN and Fox violated antitrust law by suppressing competition in exclusive agreements with the NFL that restricted fans' ability to view out-of-market games.

DirecTV had the "NFL Sunday Ticket" package exclusively from 1994 to 2022.

The plaintiffs sought $7 billion in damages in the lawsuit. Under federal antitrust law, damages can triple, so the $4 billion of the verdict will increase to $12 billion, according to Spotrac.

The NFL intends to appeal the decision to U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez, arguing that the damages are "excessive and unreasonable," via Sportico's Michael McCann. The league also issued a statement saying it's "disappointed with the jury's verdict today."

"We will certainly contest this decision as we believe that the class action claims in this case are baseless and without merit," the NFL said in the statement.

The NFL, team owners including Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft, and commissioner Roger Goodell argued in testimony that "Sunday Ticket" was "a premium product" not concerned with drawing big subscriber numbers because the league did not want to adversely affect ratings for its TV partners.

"The NFL never let prices drop again," said plaintiffs' attorney Amanda Bonn, citing a 2012 drop in DirecTV prices that resulted in a 40% surge in subscribers. "This is how an illegal antitrust scheme works."

Among the closing arguments was a 2017 memo issued by the NFL that stated the league was looking at the option of putting out-of-market games on cable if the decision was made to shutter "Sunday Ticket" as the agreement with DirecTV was nearing its end.

Additionally, a 2021 email from ESPN proposed a lesser package with a price of $70 per season that the NFL rejected, according to The Boston Globe. The "Sunday Ticket" service is now available through YouTube TV and was priced at $349 last season.

Considering the lawsuit involved antitrust law, the NFL's decision to use attorney Beth Wilkinson was curious because she has no experience in litigating such cases, a source told ESPN's Don Van Natta Jr.

The NFL will now file post-trial motions which will be heard by Judge Gutierrez on July 31. Gutierrez previously expressed frustration with how the plaintiffs tried this case by making it overly complicated and could take issue with the verdict. The judge could also be asked to consider changes to the "Sunday Ticket" package, according to Front Office Sports.

If the verdict is maintained, the NFL will then appeal the ruling which is expected to tie up the case for months, if not years, and delay any payments that the plaintiffs might receive in addition to any proposed changes to "Sunday Ticket" offerings for subscribers.

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