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NFL, Networks Hit With Antitrust Lawsuit Over TV Rights

Five plaintiffs who have purchased Sunday Ticket from DirecTV have filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL and its teams, as well as DirecTV, CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC, claiming that exclusive distribution agreements have driven up the cost of pro football telecasts in violation of antitrust law.

The lawsuit, filed on Friday in U.S. District Court in New York, takes aim at NFL Sunday Ticket, calling the distribution agreement “unique among American sports” and claiming that it has enabled the defendants to charge “exorbitant prices,” as much as $359 per season.

“Bars, restaurants, hotels and other commercial establishments have it even worse,” the lawsuit states. “Limited to only one source for the football programming that many of their customers demand, commercial establishments pay anywhere from $1,458 per year to more than $120,000 per year — as much as 10 times more than they pay for other sports packages.”

The plaintiffs in the case operate venues including Bounce Sporting Club in Manhattan, Pedal Haus Brewery in Arizona and Gringo Star Street Bar in Arizona. All purchased NFL Sunday Ticket, as did Oakland’s Jonathan Frantz, another plaintiff. Among other things, they challenge the bundling of games, noting that they must pay for access to all 32 teams games even if they are only interested in viewing one or two teams.

The suit claims that “tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands” of class members were injured.

The lawsuit contends that the NFL agreements with DirecTV violate antitrust law and “allow the NFL to unlawfully monopolize the market for live video presentation of professional football games,” shutting out other potential distributors.

“The teams have agreed not to avail themselves of cable, satellite or Internet distribution channels individually,” the lawsuit states. “In the absence of an agreement, each team would have an incentive to distribute its games nationally in these channels. 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 claim that even though the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 gave an antitrust exemption to the free telecasting of pro sports contests, there is no exemption for pay TV.

Update: A spokesman for the NFL said in a statement, “The NFL’s broadcast arrangements, including the Sunday Ticket agreement with DirecTV, have been in place for decades. They provide fans with at least three, free over-the-air games to every market every week of the NFL regular season and also provide displaced fans with the opportunity to watch their favorite team compete on the field every week. The NFL believes that these arrangements are entirely lawful and intends to defend these cases vigorously. We are the only sports league that televises all of its regular-season and playoff games on free over-the-air television.”

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