NFL antitrust lawsuit reveals intentions behind DirecTV’s exclusive Sunday ticket deal

The National Football League’s decision to distribute its Sunday ticket package exclusively through DirecTV was a strategic move intended to limit the league’s reach and keep ratings high for CBS and Fox, according to testimony presented Tuesday in an antitrust trial.

Daniel Rascher, a sports economist at the University of San Francisco, was an expert witness for Sunday Ticket subscribers who alleged that they were forced to pay inflated prices to watch their preferred teams on Sunday afternoons. Subscribers claim the NFL conspired with CBS and Fox to limit competition for their programming.

Rascher testified that if the NFL decided to partner with a cable provider, the Sunday Ticket package could reach as many as 90 million potential customers. Instead, it was limited to DirecTV’s 13 million subscribers. This exclusive deal was intended to protect ratings for CBS and Fox’s Sunday afternoon games, which are broadcast free over the air, by allowing the networks to charge more for advertising slots.

“The NFL’s deal with DirecTV ensured that more viewers would watch CBS and Fox, which in turn allowed the networks to pay the NFL an additional fee for broadcast 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 an exclusive Sunday Ticket package that included all games not available on local CBS or Fox broadcasts.

Read more: Exclusive NFL playoff broadcast raises antitrust concerns

“No other professional sport offers such exclusive out-of-market games,” Rascher emphasized during his testimony. “This exclusivity contributes to the high cost of the Sunday ticket.”

DirecTV’s price for the Sunday ticket package was $295 per season. And in Canada, where regulations require wider distribution, the same package costs $149, with a streaming option available for $75.

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

Kraft revealed that the NFL had previously rejected Apple’s offer for the Sunday Ticket package because Apple’s proposal would significantly expand its subscriber base. “We don’t want to attract a large number of people,” Kraft said. “We want to keep this as a premium offering.”

Source: House of Representatives News