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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: Sunday Ticket a ‘premium product’

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, recognizes service members during the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station, Kansas City, Missouri, April 29, 2023.

The National Football League’s Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league’s Sunday Ticket package that was once distributed by satellite broadcaster DirecTV is a “premium product” that was worth the hundreds of dollars that football fans paid each year to access all football games broadcast on Sundays.

The statement was made during testimony in a federal class-action lawsuit that represents more than 2 million current and former DirecTV residential and business customers who paid for the NFL Sunday Ticket between 2011 through 2022. DirecTV is not a party to the lawsuit.

The NFL Sunday Ticket package offers access to games aired on CBS and Fox stations beyond a customer’s home area — games that would otherwise be unavailable to watch live on television. DirecTV offered the NFL Sunday Ticket package on an exclusive basis, before the product moved over to Google’s YouTube and YouTube TV last year.

With NFL Sunday Ticket available only on satellite, customers shelled out hundreds of dollars each year to access those out-of-market football games, plus hundreds of dollars more to maintain a basic DirecTV subscription, which was needed to purchase NFL Sunday Ticket.

Subscribers say the arrangement between the NFL, the networks and DirecTV amounted to collusion and conspiracy to artificially inflate the price of the package. If sold through other distributors, the price of NFL Sunday Ticket could have been at least $100 less, they argue. The case headed to trial earlier this month.

Goodell rarely sees eye-to-eye with football fans, and the matter at hand involving NFL Sunday Ticket is no different.

“We have been clear throughout that it is a premium product, not just on pricing, but quality,” Goodell said. “Fans make that choice whether they wanted it or not. I’m sure there were fans who said it was too costly.”

In his testimony, Goodell downplayed concerns by some of the NFL’s broadcast partners over the pricing and availability of Sunday Ticket. He said DirecTV was chosen as their exclusive distribution partner from the mid-1990s to the early 2020s because DirecTV was one of the few platforms that had a national presence — you can subscribe to satellite TV anywhere within the mainland United States, as well as Alaska, Hawaii and certain territories.

By comparison, the cable TV landscape has, until recently, been extremely regionalized and fractured, making a distribution deal on cable somewhat complicated, Goodell offered. That didn’t stop premium cable multiplex networks from HBO, Showtime and Encore from being distributed on cable in the 1990s and early 2000s, but live football games are apparently a different kind of beast.

Eventually, the NFL Sunday Ticket package did move away from DirecTV, but not until Goodell and other executives were convinced that streaming was fully capable of handling the commitment to deliver live programming from coast to coast. Google bundles NFL Sunday Ticket with YouTube TV for $350 per season on top of a $73 per month subscription fee to YouTube TV’s base programming package. NFL Sunday Ticket is also available through the YouTube app itself, without a subscription to YouTube TV, though it costs $100 more.

Goodell and others at the NFL believe that an antitrust exemption carved out by lawmakers applies to the Sunday Ticket package as it does to football games aired on broadcast television. Fans who represent the plaintiffs in the matter say the exemptions only apply to the broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC — insomuch as they relate to their contracts with the NFL to offer games on television, and doesn’t apply to a package that is only available via satellite, even if it simply repurposes games from two of the four broadcast networks.

If a jury sides against the NFL, members of the class action could collect up to $21 million in damages and penalties. An actual award will be determined by the jury and scrutinized by the judge, and could be lowered based on a motion by the NFL or upon appeal.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.