Dueling Lawsuits Threaten The NFL, DirecTV's Annoying Sunday Ticket Exclusive

from the illegal-shift-in-the-backfield dept

The availability of NFL games online has long been a bit of a joke when compared to the NBA or MLB, in large part thanks to the league’s exclusive deal with DirecTV for out of market games. The televised bastard child of this unholy union is NFL Sunday Ticket, which charges consumers between $250 and $350 a season to watch their favorite games. And while DirecTV has eased up a little on the restriction that you need to subscribe to DirecTV’s other services to get Sunday Ticket, trying to order the standalone broadband-only service over at the DirecTV website results in the user being accosted with a bevy of fine print:

“*NFLSUNDAYTICKET.TV service is only available to non-DIRECTV customers who live in a select apartment building where DIRECTV service is not available, attend select universities, or live in one of the following metro areas: New York City, Philadelphia, or San Francisco. NFLSUNDAYTICKET.TV UNIVERSITY only available to students enrolled in eligible universities. Blackout rules and other conditions apply.

Even if you qualify, it’s still a pretty far cry from services like MLB.TV, which is available for as little as $60 a year. Each time the exclusive arrangement is up for renewal, wiser NFL fans quietly pray the NFL will realize the benefits of broader, less-exclusive distribution of games, but ultimately a huge check from DirecTV almost always wins out (this last check clocked in at around $12 billion for an eight year deal).

There is, however, some fleeting legal fisticuffs on the horizon that might (but probably won’t) shake up this cozy arrangement. Last month, DirecTV and the NFL were hit with a class action lawsuit (pdf) alleging that the companies’ exclusive distribution arrangement for NFL games under the NFL Sunday Ticket brand violates antitrust laws. The suit took specific aim at the inflexibility of the packages sold to consumers:

“The league and DirecTV offer NFL Sunday Ticket only as all-or-nothing. Purchasers of NFL Sunday Ticket must buy all out-of-market games for all teams even if they are only interested in watching the games of a particular team. Likewise, consumers must buy the complete season of games and may not purchase individual games.”

Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have been hit with similar suits (which the NFL is also included in), and both leagues have so far responded with slightly-more-flexible fare (like NBA’s League Pass, which allows the purchase of individual games). The NFL, however, is also now facing a second lawsuit (pdf) from a sports bar owner in San Francisco alleging that locking bars to DirecTV service to extract “monopoly rents” (From $2,500 to $120,000 depending on size) constitutes an “illegal monopoly”:

“Defendants have colluded to sell the out-of-market NFL Sunday afternoon games only through DirecTV. Such an arrangement eliminates competition in the distribution of out-of-market Sunday afternoon games and requires anyone wishing to view these games to subscribe to DirecTV and purchase NFL Sunday Ticket at the supracompetitive price dictated by DirecTV.”

It’s unclear if either suit will convince a judge to blow up the NFL and DirecTV’s cozy cuddling, but a successful suit could have far-reaching implications. AT&T’s $49 billion acquisition of DirecTV is contingent on DirecTV maintaining its exclusive relationship with the NFL, meaning AT&T can walk away should the arrangement crumble. Regardless of the suit(s), you’d hope that the NFL some day wakes up and realizes the benefits of broader, more flexible NFL game distribution when it comes to battling pirated game streams and users who are having to use VPN to get cheaper international NFL streaming options.

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Companies: directv, nfl

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Comments on “Dueling Lawsuits Threaten The NFL, DirecTV's Annoying Sunday Ticket Exclusive”

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Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s becoming more and more common.

When people can’t afford to attend your league’s games, and can’t afford to watch it on TV, they find other activities and interests. Today there are more alternatives than ever before.

Those activities and interests are what they pass on to their kids, rather than your league. A generation later, few will pay for your league.

andy says:


I am so glad i don’t have to deal with this mess and also the blackout rules, seriously you want me to pay hundreds of dollars then black out my games i have paid for because not enough people attended the game live. Surely there is a way to get a refund when a game i have paid to watch is not aired, no…damn America you are fucked up.

Well as i said i am glad my vpn gives me the option of watching any game live from anywhere in the world at the touch of a button, no blackout rules no restrictions because of where i live or what religion i am or what language i speak. I just get every game i want free of charge , gratis , and as there are millions of others doing the same thing the chance that anyone is “arrested” for a civil offence like watching a game live is absolutely zero.

Radix says:

For the record, MLB.tv is only $60 right now because half the year is over. They drop the price every month. To get the full year starting in March/April, I believe it’s $120 for the basic package, $140 for premium.

As for the “illegal monopoly,” I’m sympathetic to the folks paying through the nose for access to the games, but I don’t think it follows that it’s illegal.

Is it illegal for Ferarri to only sell through Ferarri dealerships? Maybe that’s too simplified, but I’m not aware of any legal requirements for every product/service to be available through the channels that every last person might want.

Techdirt does a good job at taking the movie industry to task for thinking that they are in the “movie industry” rather than the entertainment industry. If the market is bigger than the supplier thinks, it’s probably also bigger than the ‘demander’ thinks. If that’s the case, then the NFL/DirecTV don’t really have a monopoly at all. This is just one form of entertainment, to which people are NOT entitled. Just like you can go buy a Not-Ferarri, you can watch Not-NFL and vote with your wallet.

Anonymous Coward says:

The price is right, or is it

The term “professional sports” is an oxymoron, even college football is semi-professional. If it is a sport it is non-profit as opposed to professional which is expressly for profit,so it’s just another business. I don’t know of anyone that would pay hundreds of dollars for a grandstand seat at the end of a GM factory in a January snow storm and cheer every new car that rolls out, even though they produced something that is actually useful. Why should we devote any time and money to a group of fools trying to beat each other senseless. Lets be more accurate and call it “selling brain cells”, its just another reality show. If you like that kind of entertainment then you pay your dollars to watch but it has nothing to do with sport.

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