¡Que Onda Magazine!

Houston's oldest bilingual publication

Nfl found liable in Sunday Ticket class action, ordered to pay over $4 billion in damages

A federal jury in Los Angeles found the NFL liable in the Sunday Ticket class action on Thursday, awarding the plaintiffs more than $4 billion in damages. The NFL has the option to appeal to U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez, arguing that the damages are excessive and unreasonable. Additionally, the league can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. This ruling could force significant changes to the league’s broadcasting arrangements, which accounted for 93 of the 100 most-watched TV broadcasts in the U.S. last year.

Despite the defeat, the NFL may not have to make payments or alter its broadcasting structure for years—if at all. Gutierrez, who expressed skepticism of the plaintiffs’ case during the trial, will hear post-trial motions on July 31. The NFL may seek a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, arguing that no reasonable jury could have reached the same conclusion based on the evidence presented, or that the jury misapplied the law. Alternatively, the NFL might pursue “remittitur,” contending that the damages are so excessive it would be a miscarriage of justice to uphold the amount. The league could also request Gutierrez to delay potential changes to the Sunday Ticket structure resulting from the jury’s verdict.

If Gutierrez upholds the jury’s ruling, the NFL will appeal to the Ninth Circuit and seek to halt the case pending the appeal. This delay would affect class members expecting payments or considering renewing their subscriptions. The NFL would argue that a stay is appropriate due to the substantial damages award and the structural changes that would affect contracts for teams, the league, and providers. This would mean the NFL would not have to pay damages or make structural changes to the Sunday Ticket package until all appeals are resolved.

The appeals process in the Ninth Circuit can take from a year and a half to nearly three years. The NFL could also petition the U.S. Supreme Court after the Ninth Circuit appeal, extending the timeline into the late 2020s. Another possibility is that the NFL and the plaintiffs could reach a settlement before an appeal is heard, where the league pays less and makes fewer changes, but the plaintiffs—and their attorneys who will receive a portion of the proceeds—gain payment certainty.

The class action involves more than 2.4 million residential subscribers and over 48,000 restaurants, bars, and other commercial establishments that purchased Sunday Ticket. Journalist Meghann Cuniff reported that the residential class was awarded $4.7 billion, while the commercial class received another $96 million. The plaintiffs argued that NFL teams pooling their broadcasts through Sunday Ticket, available through YouTube TV for $349/year (or less with discounts), violated antitrust law.

The NFL disputed the verdict. “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 other major pro leagues, NFL teams offer local fans free TV access to games, but out-of-town fans must purchase Sunday Ticket. If NFL teams competed in broadcasting deals, some might make out-of-town games available for free or less than the Sunday Ticket cost.

The NFL raised several counterarguments, but none convinced the jurors. One argument involved the Sports Broadcasting Act (SBA), which exempts professional football, basketball, baseball, and hockey leagues from antitrust scrutiny when negotiating national TV deals for freely watched games. While the SBA doesn’t exempt subscription-based Sunday Ticket from antitrust scrutiny, the NFL claimed Sunday Ticket is part of a broader TV arrangement that includes free local broadcasts.

The NFL also warned that if teams were forced to compete in licensing out-of-town broadcasts, it would reduce the number of televised games available to fans. Although Sunday Ticket has a cost, it ensures fans can watch any game on TV regardless of location. If out-of-town fans depended on their favorite team finding a broadcast partner, some might lose access to certain games.

Besides appealing, the NFL will need to consider new broadcasting arrangements where teams compete in broadcast sales. The league insists consumers will be worse off without Sunday Ticket but has incentives to maintain its broadcasting dominance—even if it means exploring new methods for teams to televise games to out-of-town fans.