NFL hit with jury verdict in ‘Sunday Ticket’ antitrust trial that could reach $14.1 billion

Chris Isidore, CNN | 6/28/2024, 12:46 p.m.
A jury ordered the NFL on Thursday to pay more than $4.7 billion for anti-trust violations surrounding its “Sunday Ticket” …

 A jury ordered the NFL on Thursday to pay more than $4.7 billion for anti-trust violations surrounding its “Sunday Ticket” package, which lets fans watch games outside of their home markets but required them to buy access to a bundle of games to do so.

Because of the case’s nature as an anti-trust matter, the verdict could be tripled if upheld, putting the NFL on the hook for $14.1 billion in damages. But the league, America’s most popular source of television programming, has already vowed to appeal.

The verdict is large enough that if it withstands appeal, it would be a financial blow even to America’s richest, most popular and profitable sport. The NFL’s annual revenue was more than $18 billion last year, according to estimates, and Commissioner Roger Goodell has set an annual revenue target of $25 billion by 2027. Rights fees are the major driver of that revenue stream, but this decision could shake up those deals and others across professional sports, changing the way teams make money.

The case, first brought in 2015, focused on the NFL’s package of games outside of a local market that are not shown nationally on other networks. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the class action suit argued that by restricting broadcasts of those “out-of-market” games to the “Sunday Ticket” package, the NFL is forcing customers who just want to watch one team or a small group of teams to pay more.

“Given the relatively low cost of internet streaming and satellite and cable television carriage, each team acting independently would offer their games at a competitive price to anybody in the country who wanted to watch that particular team,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued in a filing. “Instead, however, the teams have all forgone this option in favor of creating a more lucrative monopoly.”

Bill Carmody, the lead attorney in the case, told CNN that the Los Angeles jury was out fewer than two hours.

“Justice was done, and it was a great day for consumers everywhere,” he said. “It was a real decisive win.”

During arguments, the plaintiffs had argued that fans of specific teams should be able to buy packages of just the games they want to watch, not the entire league’s worth of out-of-market games. But the jury did not rule on whether that will happen now. It only issued a decision on the amount of damages.

“I don’t know, I sure hope so,” Carmody said when asked if individual game or team packages would now be offered. “That question is something the court is going to deal with separately.”

The NFL has argued that it provides the best value for its fans to watch a wide selection of games for free on broadcast networks, and other games without additional charge for those who have cable, satellite or streaming services.

“We are disappointed with the jury’s verdict today in the NFL Sunday Ticket class action lawsuit,” the NFL said in a statement Thursday. “We continue to believe that our media distribution strategy, which features all NFL games broadcast on free over-the-air television in the markets of the participating teams and national distribution of our most popular games… is by far the most fan friendly distribution model in all of sports and entertainment. We will certainly contest this decision as we believe that the class action claims in this case are baseless and without merit.”

The case focused on the package as it had been offered by DirecTV, which had held the exclusive Sunday Ticket package until it lost it to Google-owned YouTube TV at the start of last season, which the Wall Street Journal reported cost $2 billion a year. YouTube charges fans $449 a year for the package.

CNN’s Oliver Darcy contributed reporting.