Supreme Court to Decide Whether to Hear NFL Lawsuit That Aims to Restrict Consumer Choice

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The Supreme Court will decide as early as this week whether to hear a petition by the NFL and DirecTV that contests a ruling made by the Ninth District Court of Appeals in August that opened the door to democratize the league's Sunday Ticket package, according to ESPN

Subscribers of Sunday Ticket sued, citing antitrust law, but had their class-action suit over the NFL and DirecTV's content distribution practices initially shot down by a lower court's decision. The Court of Appeals' opinion in August overruled that decision, ruling that Sunday Ticket's business model was, in fact, monopolistic in nature.

As it stands now, if consumers of out of town teams want to watch their team play on Sundays, they are forced to pay close to $300 per year for a package that includes all of the league's teams. 

The Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled that business model inherently breaks antitrust laws by forcing buyers "to pay for more games than they want."

Additionally, consumers argue that Sunday Ticket violates antitrust laws because it restricts competition that could happen directly between the individual teams and customers regarding how to sell out of town live rights, which allows the centralized league to set whatever price it wants. 

DirecTV and the NFL disagreed with the Court of Appeals' ruling in their petition, claiming that their partnership is between the individual teams and the league—not the buyers—and thus does not violate any antitrust laws.

“If the NFL were to lose, I don’t think it is necessarily so dramatic in terms of the way you will watch NFL on satellite or cable,” Stefan Szymanski, a sports economist at the University of Michigan, told ESPN. “But, it should be good news for consumers because they should be paying less (for those out-of-market live telecasts).”