After nearly hitting the Supreme Court, the long-running antitrust lawsuit concerning how out-of-market NFL games are distributed is going to arbitration. Or at least, one part of the case will be headed there after a federal judge on Tuesday agreed with DirecTV that the satcaster’s agreements with “Sunday Ticket” customers included an operative arbitration clause that encompassed the dispute.
The customers — restaurants and bars that pay for the pricey package of out-of-market NFL games — allege that the NFL’s 32 teams are colluding with each other instead of allowing members to sell competing streams. The suit was given the green light by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviewed a half-century of antitrust law and sports broadcasting before coming to the conclusion that the league’s interlocking agreements could indeed be challenged as anti-competitive. A trial is targeted for 2024, but first, the portion of the case that involves DirecTV will be arbitrated.
The class-action lawyers representing the plaintiffs made a range of arguments for why the dispute couldn’t be arbitrated. They first posited that DirecTV had waived the right to arbitrate through its actions in the long-running case first filed back in 2015. Alternatively, they pointed to the type of injunctive relief demanded as being outside the scope of arbitration. Finally, they took the position that DirecTV had amended its agreements, and that California law precluded arbitration in certain circumstances.
U.S. District Court Judge Philip Gutierrez shoots down these various arguments in today’s ruling. He concludes that the later customer agreement governs, as does the Federal Arbitration Act. Below is the full opinion.
The NFL recently inked deals with TV partners valued at more than $100 billion, but the league has yet to announce what would be happening with its “Sunday Ticket” out-of-market package moving forward.