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NFL’s Antitrust Trial Exposes Intent Behind DirecTV’s Exclusive Sunday Ticket Deal

 |  June 12, 2024

The National Football League’s decision to distribute its Sunday Ticket package exclusively through DirecTV was a strategic move aimed at limiting its reach and preserving high broadcast ratings for CBS and Fox, according to testimony presented at an antitrust trial on Tuesday.

Daniel Rascher, a sports economist at the University of San Francisco, served as an expert witness for Sunday Ticket subscribers who have alleged that they were forced to pay inflated prices to view their preferred teams on Sunday afternoons. The subscribers claim the NFL conspired with CBS and Fox to reduce competition for their broadcasts.

Rascher testified that had the NFL chosen to partner with a cable TV provider, the Sunday Ticket package could have reached as many as 90 million potential customers. Instead, it was limited to DirecTV’s 13 million subscribers. This exclusive agreement was designed to protect the ratings of CBS and Fox’s Sunday afternoon games, which are broadcast for free over the air, thereby enabling these networks to charge more for advertising slots.

“The NFL’s deal with DirecTV ensured that more viewers would tune into CBS and Fox, which, in turn, allowed the networks to pay the NFL a premium for the broadcasting rights,” Rascher explained to the jury in downtown Los Angeles.

Between 2011 and 2023, CBS and Fox collectively paid the NFL $23 billion for the rights to broadcast Sunday afternoon games. During the same period, DirecTV paid the league $15 billion for the exclusive Sunday Ticket package, which offers all games not available on local CBS or Fox broadcasts.

Read more: NFL’s Exclusive Streaming of Playoff Game Raises Antitrust Concerns

“No other professional sport has a similar exclusive arrangement for out-of-market games,” Rascher highlighted during his testimony. “This exclusivity contributes to the high cost of Sunday Ticket.”

DirecTV’s pricing for the Sunday Ticket package was $295 per season. By contrast, in Canada, where regulations mandate broader distribution, the same package costs $149, with a streaming option available for $75.

Testimony from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, played for the jury, underscored the NFL’s strategy to keep Sunday Ticket exclusive and expensive. Kraft, who chairs the NFL’s media committee, described a non-exclusive deal as a “non-starter,” arguing that a lower price for Sunday Ticket would undermine the league’s deals with CBS and Fox.

Kraft disclosed that the NFL had previously turned down an offer from Apple for the Sunday Ticket package because Apple’s proposal would have significantly expanded the subscriber base. “We’re not looking to get lots of people,” Kraft stated. “We want to keep it as a premium offering.”

Source: Court House News