Federal judge allows class action lawsuit against NFL over Sunday Ticket to proceed

A federal judge last week gave the green-light for a class-action lawsuit to proceed against the National Football League (NFL) over its years-long practice of allowing DirecTV to distribute its Sunday Ticket package on an exclusive basis.

Last Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Philip Gutierrez rejected a request by the NFL to dismiss the case, which was brought by residential and business subscribers of DirecTV in 2015.

The case centers on the NFL's earlier decision to afford DirecTV the exclusive rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket package, which is now carried by Google’s YouTube and offers access to out-of-market Sunday afternoon games. DirecTV and Google are not defendants in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs in the case claim the NFL's agreement with DirecTV substantially reduced the number of available games that football fans could watch for free on CBS and Fox unless they purchased the NFL Sunday Ticket package via satellite.

"The contracts require that [CBS and Fox]...does not make available more than one [NFL] game in any one market in the territory at a particular time, subject to market overlap consistent with current practice," the judge wrote in his opinion, apparently citing a portion of the contract the NFL entered into with the networks.


"Thus, if CBS and FOX are only able to each broadcast a football game on one channel in a given area, then necessarily there are many games not being broadcast in that area," the judge continued. "And most consumers will only be able to watch three of the ten to thirteen games being played on a Sunday via free, over-the-air broadcasts."

While the plaintiffs in the case are largely focusing their attention on the NFL, the judge found that DirecTV could not escape blame over the alleged scheme, because "a reasonable trier of fact could find that these interlocking provisions show DirecTV was aware and participating in the overall scheme to limit output of paid telecasts."

The judge’s order allows the case to proceed to a trial, which is tentatively set for February 22. The NFL, the defendant in the case, could be forced to pay upwards of $6 billion in alleged damages, according to some estimates.

Officials with the NFL and DirecTV declined to comment.

The lawsuit received class-action status nearly two years ago, despite the objection of the NFL. It could involve as many as 2.4 million DirecTV subscribers who purchased the NFL Sunday Ticket between 2011 and 2023. The plaintiffs in the case allege the NFL and DirecTV's arrangement artificially inflated the price of Sunday Ticket by not making the games available on broadcast TV or through other avenues.

When sold through DirecTV, NFL Sunday Ticket generally required a customer to purchase a base subscription package to DirecTV's satellite television service, though a streaming-only version of NFL Sunday Ticket was available to residential customers who lived in a home where installing a satellite dish was not possible.

The NFL Sunday Ticket moved to Google-owned YouTube with the start of the 2023-2024 football season. Sports fans have the option to purchase the NFL Sunday Ticket as part of a bundle with the $73-per-month streaming cable replacement YouTube TV, or à la carte through YouTube's streaming marketplace, Primetime Channels.