American football’s National Football League (NFL) has been levied with $4.7 billion in damages as the outcome of an antitrust lawsuit against the league over its Sunday Ticket broadcast offering.

A federal jury in California found yesterday (June 27) that the league had conspired to inflate the price of Sunday Ticket, its out-of-market broadcast offering, and that it was liable for damages to its 2.4 million subscribers and 48,000 commercial business customers.

The case – which has been running since 2015 – was divided into two sets of plaintiffs classes – individual Sunday Ticket residential subscribers, and commercial establishments, such as hotels and bars.

The jury ruling saw $4.6 billion awarded to the residential subscribers and a further $96 million to the business subscribers, however antitrust law in the US means that the damages figure may be tripled to as much as $14.1 billion if a judge so chooses.

For the period in question in the trial, the NFL had partnered with satellite distributor DirecTV to exclusively distribute Sunday Ticket, an agreement that lawyers for the class action plaintiffs said saw prices skyrocket, accusing the NFL of seeking to protect the value of standard rights fees paid by the likes of CBS by discouraging Sunday Ticket subscriptions.

The NFL will attempt to appeal the decision, having denied any wrongdoing throughout the case and arguing that Sunday Ticket’s nature as a premium product necessitated its price.

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In 2023, NFL switched the broadcast carrier of Sunday Ticket from DirecTV (which had held the rights since 1994) to Google, which broadcasts it over its YouTube TV video platform. Neither DirecTV nor Google are defendants in the case.

The case began in 2015, when a batch of lawsuits were filed on behalf of DirecTV subscribers, arguing that exclusive agreements between the NFL and the broadcaster unlawfully eliminated competition for the live telecasts.

Those cases were consolidated before US District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell in Los Angeles, who then dismissed the litigation in 2017 and ruled that the plaintiffs had not shown that the NFL’s arrangement with DirecTV undermined competition.

O’Connell, who died that same year, decided that the agreements did not reduce the output of games available to the public and also noted that DirecTV was required to renegotiate its licensing agreement with the NFL every few years, so competitors had the opportunity to vie for the TV rights.

The San Francisco-based US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case in 2019, however, finding that lawyers for the subscribers had plausibly made the case that, absent the agreements, there would be a stronger market for game broadcasts and many more telecasts would be made available.

Then, in 2020, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the NFL and DirecTV. The parties had asked the justices to overturn the 2019 ruling but the court’s refusal meant the lawsuit could move forward.

The case finally went to court earlier this year, but when the NFL does appeal (which could reach as high as the US Supreme Court) then the saga may yet continue.