NFL, NBC, Fox, CBS, ESPN & DirecTV Tackled With TV Rights Antitrust Lawsuit

Legal actions against the NFL over anticompetitive practices have been piling up of late like a 1-yard fight on any given Sunday. Now there’s a new player on the field with a sprawling new antitrust class action lawsuit filed late last week against not just every single team in the NFL and Sunday Ticket package provider DirecTV but also NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN.

“The 32 professional football teams that compete in the National Football League (‘NFL’) have agreed among themselves to eliminate all competition in the broadcasting and sale of live video presentations of professional football games,” says the October 16 jury-seeking complaint (read it here) filed by lawyers for New York City’s Bounce Sporting Club, other establishments, and Oakland resident Jonathan Frantz. “The Teams have agreed not to avail themselves of cable, satellite, or Internet distribution channels individually,” the 40-page injunction-seeking filing in federal court adds. “On information and belief, DirecTV’s contracts with the NFL include clauses mandating that the NFL and its Teams retain that anticompetitive scheme,” it also says of the weekly package the satellite provider offers for more than $350 a season to individual fans. And if you wonder why bars like Bounce are taking on the NFL, DirecTV and the nets: “Limited to only one source for the football programming that many of their customers demand, commercial establishments pay anywhere from $1,458 a year to more than $120,000 a year—as much as ten times more than they pay for other sports packages.”

Which means, like the upcoming January trial Major League Baseball is facing over similar accusations — and in which some of the attorneys in this matter are also participating — the NFL could find itself facing potentially millions of class members if this case gets its desired certification. As for the broadcasters? A shattering of the current system could see not only Sunday Ticket lose its grip but the approximately $6 billion annually networks pay to the NFL to show games on Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football move to a whole new more individualized and undoubtedly digital landscape — one where they potentially could not command the big ad bucks they presently receive.

“The Teams have all forgone this option in favor of creating a more lucrative monopoly. The Teams have agreed to make an offering called ‘NFL Sunday Ticket’ (‘Sunday Ticket’) the only way to view games other than the limited selection of games broadcast through sponsored telecasts (or, as discussed below, the cable channels ESPN and NFL Network) in any given area,” notes the new complaint regarding the rigid delivery and deals now in place.

“In addition to allowing Defendants to charge supracompetitive prices for Sunday Ticket, this scheme protects the five networks that currently contract with the NFL to broadcast regular season NFL games: the cable channels ESPN and NFL Network, and the terrestrial networks CBS, NBC, and Fox (collectively, the “Network Defendants”),” the filing notes. “By limiting the availability of competing products, the agreements drive up the market share and value of the Network Defendants’ broadcasts.”

The nets had no response to Friday’s filing, which is now in front of Judge Alison Nathan, who oversaw the now close to settled The Wendy Williams Show and Lionsgate intern lawsuit.

Jeffrey Dubner, Richard Koffman and Daniel Rehns of NYC’s Cohen Milstein; and Howard Langer, Edward Diver as well as Peter Leckman of Langer Grogan and Diver represent the plaintiffs in this case.

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