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NFL rights holders dropped from antitrust lawsuit

US networks CBS, Fox and NBC, along with sports broadcaster ESPN, have been dropped from an antitrust lawsuit claiming collusion in the means that rights deals have been established for the NFL American football league.

The Hollywood Reporter website said the putative class action alleging that customers of DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket out-of-market subscription package are subject to anti-competitive pricing and restrictive supply will continue, but only the NFL, its teams and the satellite-television provider will have to defend it moving forward.

Starting from last summer, the Sunday Ticket service was the subject of more than a dozen lawsuits from the likes of NFL fan groups and commercial subscribers such as bars and restaurants.

These cases were then consolidated into a multidistrict litigation process. NFL rights-holders CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN had been named as co-defendants after being accused of participating in the alleged conspiracy through insisting on matters such as Sunday Ticket being capped at a certain number of subscribers per year and determining which games would be broadcast at a certain time.

However, the Hollywood Reporter said an amended consolidated complaint was filed on Friday with CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN not included as named defendants.

To the NFL, the amended complaint states: “No other major sports league in America has such a drastic, total elimination of competition in the broadcasting of its games. While Major League Baseball ('MLB'), the National Hockey League ('NHL'), and the National Basketball Association ('NBA') have each allocated markets geographically and pooled so-called out-of-market rights, none has agreed to centralise control and sale of all broadcast rights.”

It is claimed that with teams granted permission to strike deals on their own, more games would be broadcast through internet streaming and satellite and cable carriage at competitive prices. Teams currently work through the league, which is engaged in a package arrangement with DirecTV.