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NFL’s Exclusive Streaming of Playoff Game Raises Antitrust Concerns

 |  January 14, 2024

The NFL’s decision to exclusively stream the playoff matchup between the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs this Saturday has triggered widespread concern, particularly regarding potential antitrust implications. This marks a departure from traditional broadcast methods and raises questions about the league’s commitment to maintaining a level playing field for all teams.

The NFL’s shift towards streaming began in 2022 with the relocation of Thursday Night Football from free broadcasts on Fox to a premium slot on Amazon. While that move generated limited controversy, the exclusive streaming of a playoff game has ignited a more significant debate, with critics fearing a slippery slope towards more postseason contests being confined to pay-only platforms, reported NBC.

The broadcast antitrust exemption, a crucial aspect of the NFL’s legal framework, allows teams to collectively sell their TV rights. However, the current move to streaming has prompted New York Congressman Pat Ryan to call for an examination of the laws that permit this collective selling, hinting at potential legal repercussions for the league.

Read more: Apple In Talks With NFL To Stream Sunday Games

Experts argue that placing too many playoff games on streaming platforms could endanger the NFL’s antitrust exemption. If networks are compelled to purchase the rights to broadcast all teams’ games rather than specific matchups, it may lead to individual teams negotiating their own deals. This scenario could result in financial imbalances, threatening the cohesiveness of a league that has thrived for over six decades.

For more than 30 years, the NFL has strategically ensured that cable-only games on networks such as TNT or ESPN are still accessible on over-the-air TV in local markets. This practice has been vital in preserving the league’s antitrust exemption by maintaining the connection between three-letter networks and local markets.

As the NFL ventures into exclusive streaming for a playoff game, legal experts are closely scrutinizing the potential antitrust ramifications. Many caution that pushing streaming beyond its current boundaries could prompt calls for the league to lose its antitrust exemption, a scenario that could have far-reaching consequences for the NFL’s financial structure and competitive balance.

The league’s experiment with streaming on wild-card weekend serves as a litmus test, inviting heightened scrutiny from both fans and lawmakers.

Source: NBC Sports