July 3, 2022

NFL on defensive end of suits over televised games

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers play against the Washington Redskins at the Redskins home stadium.  November 16, 2014.  Photo: Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers play against the Washington Redskins at the Redskins home stadium. November 16, 2014. Photo: Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons.

By Amanda Bronstad, From The National Law Journal

The National Football League is playing defense against several class actions alleging antitrust violations over its Sunday Ticket package, which allows fans to watch games broadcast outside their local television market.

At least eight suits, all filed within the past two months, allege that individual and commercial subscribers of the package, like restaurants and sports bars, have overpaid for out-of-market games in violation of the U.S. Sherman Antitrust Act.

The suits are the latest to tackle how sports leagues and satellite and cable providers sell out-of-market games through bundled packages available on televisions, computers or other electronic devices. On Sept. 1, a federal judge approved the settlement of a similar class action against the National Hockey League.

But unlike the NHL case, the NFL lawsuits hope to upend an exclusive arrangement the league has with DirecTV that doesn’t exist in baseball, hockey or basketball. The arrangement, which was extended under a $12 billion deal last year, was a lucrative part of AT&T Inc.’s $48.5 billion merger with DirecTV, which the Federal Communications Commission approved on July 24.

Plaintiffs lawyers say the exclusive deal leaves no room for competition and has driven up the price of the Sunday Ticket package.

“Putting the Sunday Ticket package out on multiple distribution platforms will have an effect of increasing competition and restraining price,” said Christopher Lebsock, of Hausfeld in San Francisco, who filed a suit on behalf of The Mighty Duck in San Francisco, a sports bar Lebsock moved on Aug. 27 to coordinate his case and seven other class actions filed over the Sunday Ticket package into a single federal multidistrict proceeding.

Most of the NFL cases were brought on behalf of bars and restaurants that pay $2,314 to $120,000 a year for a Sunday Ticket package, according Lebsock’s suit.

“For a bar, which caters its business on a diverse crowd, they want to be able to show all out-of-market games so that if somebody comes in and is interested in seeing a New Orleans Saints game, they can put it in the corner, and they can watch that game while they sit there and have a beer,” he said. “But they also need to cater to the Packers fans as well, and whoever else comes into the bar.”

Derek Ludwin and Gregg Levy, partners at Covington & Burling in Washington who represent The National Football League Inc., did not respond to a request for comment.

Robert Mercer, a spokesman for DirecTV Holdings LLC, a unit of DirecTV Inc., wrote in an email: “These lawsuits are without merit. We are fully confident in the legality of our agreement with the NFL.”

The NFL suits were filed days after U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in the Southern District of New York preliminarily approved the NHL settlement on June 15. Under the settlement, the NHL has agreed to provide out-of-market games of a single team at a 20 percent discount from the currently bundled price. The deal also pays $6.5 million in attorney fees.

Lead class counsel Howard Langer questioned the timing of when the NFL cases were filed.

“No case against any sports leagues had been filed until after the settlement with the National Hockey League had been made public,” said Langer, of Philadelphia’s Langer, Grogan & Diver, who has a separate class action pending over similar claims against Major League Baseball. “And the first of the cases I’m aware of filed against the National Football League copied substantial sections of our complaints.”

But Lesbock, who filed his suit on July 13, insisted that the timing was just a coincidence.

“A number of entities that subscribe to Sunday Ticket came to us last fall and were very concerned about what was going on with Sunday Ticket pricing, and concerned that the merger with AT&T was only going to exacerbate the problem,” he said. “And it appears that’s what’s happening.”

IMAGE: Tampa Bay Buccaneers play against the Washington Redskins at FedExField stadium. November 16, 2014.   Photo: Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons

For more on this story go to;: http://www.nationallawjournal.com/id=1202736796606/NFL-On-Defensive-End-of-Suits-Over-Televised-Games#ixzz3lLftRn68


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