DirecTV's 'NFL Sunday Ticket' Spurs Wave of Antitrust Litigation

The TV market would be quite different if it were not for live professional football, the lawsuit theorizes.
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There's the NFC and the AFC, and then there's the conference of class-action lawyers who are now bum rushing the National Football League and DirecTV over the way that out-of-market games are being licensed. The surest indication that lawyers smell an end-zone dance is the filing of the fourth — yes, fourth — class-action lawsuit over Sunday NFL Ticket in the past two months.

The latest lawsuit, from attorneys at Robins Kaplan on behalf of a New York sports bar (Gael Pub) and others similarly situated, isn't qualitatively different from earlier actions.

This one likewise alleges that NFL teams are colluding with each other to grant the NFL the exclusive right to market games outside each team's home market. "But for the NFL teams’ agreement, in which DirecTV has joined, NFL teams would compete against each other in the market for out-of-market games, which would likely induce more competitive pricing," states the complaint.

The alleged horizontal conspiracy is thrown in alongside talk about the competitive dynamics of today's television marketplace. "Dish Network and other MVPDs would compete with DirecTV on price and service if they were not unlawfully precluded from access to the distribution of out-of-market games," continues the lawsuit.

As noted in our past coverage, the litigation is being spurred by two legal developments. First, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling American Needle v. National Football League, which held that NFL teams are capable of conspiring when making licensing deals. Second, the preliminary success experienced by class-action plaintiffs attacking Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League and their TV partners over the way those leagues' games are broadcast.

The NFL and DirecTV haven't yet responded to any of the lawsuits. Before the cases even get to the merits, some procedural order could come. And once it does, the lawsuits demanding both damages and injunctions will be worth following closely as the commercial value of live sports tracks closely with the commercial value of television. Wall Street provided evidence of this last week.

Here's the full complaint.