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Antitrust lawsuit claims NFL deals with networks amount to a monopoly

The National Football League, along with DirecTV, CBS, NBC, Fox, and ESPN are engaging in anticompetitive behavior by limiting the outlets that can broadcast NFL games, according to a new lawsuit. An Oakland DirecTV subscriber, along with a handful of sports bars in New York, California, and Arizona are suing the above networks for antitrust practices, suggesting that individual teams should be able to make their own TV licensing deals.

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“The Teams have agreed not to avail themselves of cable, satellite, or Internet distribution channels individually,” explained the complaint according to Deadline. “On information and belief, DirecTV’s contracts with the NFL include clauses mandating that the NFL and its Teams retain that anticompetitive scheme.

Because of this anticompetitive behavior, the lawsuit continues, networks are able to charge “exorbitant prices” to consumers and businesses. It states that DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket costs as much as $359 per season for an individual, and anywhere from $1,458 to “more than $120,000” per year for businesses.

“In addition to allowing Defendants to charge supracompetitive prices for Sunday Ticket, this scheme protects the five networks that currently contract with the NFL to broadcast regular season NFL games: the cable channels ESPN and NFL Network, and the terrestrial networks CBS, NBC, and Fox (collectively, the “Network Defendants”),” said the filing. “By limiting the availability of competing products, the agreements drive up the market share and value of the Network Defendants’ broadcasts.”

Under the current structure, only 3 games are available each Sunday to users without DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket, with Fox and CBS rotating between which network will show a double header each Sunday. The rest of the nationally televised games are split between NFL Network (which shows Thursday night games for part of the season), NBC’s Sunday Night Football, and ESPN’s Monday Night Football. As such, the lawsuit alleges that the current structure is a monopoly that is unfair to viewers, forcing a lack of competition among broadcasters.

The lawsuit states that if these anticompetitive agreements were not in place, NFL teams could offer their games through multiple satellite, cable TV and internet streaming at a more reasonable price. Obviously both NFL teams and broadcasters don’t want to lose their position under the current structure (and, as a result, a good deal of their exorbitant profits). If the lawsuit were upheld, however, there would theoretically be many more (legal) options available for viewers to catch their favorite teams, and marque games each week.

With so much at stake for both sides, this will be an interesting suit to keep an eye on.