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NFL Ordered to Pay $4.7 Billion in Damages After Jury Finds Them Guilty of Violating Antitrust Laws

NFL (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

A jury in U.S. District Court has ordered the NFL to pay more than $4.7 billion in damages on Thursday, finding that the league violated antitrust laws in its distribution of out-of-market Sunday afternoon games through a premium subscription service.

The jury awarded $4.7 billion in damages to residential subscribers and an additional $96 million to commercial subscribers. With the potential for damages to be tripled under federal antitrust laws, the NFL faces a potential total liability of $14.39 billion.

The lawsuit represented 2.4 million residential subscribers and 48,000 businesses across the United States who purchased the out-of-market games package from 2011 to 2022 through DirecTV.

It alleged that the NFL violated antitrust laws by selling its Sunday games package at an inflated price and restricting competition by offering “Sunday Ticket” exclusively through a satellite provider.

In response to the verdict, the NFL stated its intention to appeal, expressing disappointment with the jury’s decision and asserting the merit of its media distribution strategy, which includes broadcasting all NFL games on free over-the-air television in team markets alongside national distribution options like RedZone, Sunday Ticket, and NFL+.

Post-trial motions, including one to set aside the verdict, are scheduled for July 31. If the verdict stands, the NFL plans to appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Arrives at Court (Photo: Damian Dovarganes)

The trial, which spanned three weeks, featured testimony from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Plaintiffs’ attorney Bill Carmody hailed the verdict as a victory for consumer protection, emphasizing the significance of the outcome for consumers.

During closing arguments, Carmody presented an April 2017 NFL memo discussing scenarios without “Sunday Ticket,” where cable channels would broadcast Sunday afternoon out-of-market games not shown on Fox or CBS.

The jury deliberated for nearly five hours before reaching its decision. Any payments of damages, changes to the “Sunday Ticket” package, or alterations to the NFL’s Sunday afternoon game broadcasts will be stayed pending the conclusion of all appeals.

The NFL maintained throughout the trial that its sale of “Sunday Ticket” falls within its antitrust broadcasting exemption, which covers over-the-air broadcasts but does not extend to pay TV.

This case drew attention from other professional sports leagues that also offer out-of-market packages, although these leagues typically distribute their packages through multiple providers and share revenue per subscriber rather than receiving fixed rights fees.

DirecTV had held the rights to “Sunday Ticket” from its inception in 1994 until 2022. The NFL subsequently entered a seven-year agreement with Google’s YouTube TV beginning in the 2023 season.

Originally filed in 2015 by the Mucky Duck sports bar in San Francisco, the lawsuit was initially dismissed in 2017. It was reinstated two years later by the Ninth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over California and eight other states. Last year, Judge Philip Gutierrez ruled that the case could proceed as a class action.

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