LOS ANGELES — The jury in the class-action lawsuit filed by “Sunday Ticket” subscribers will receive instructions and hear closing arguments on Wednesday before beginning deliberations.

U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez will issue jury instructions and the plaintiffs will give their final statement during the morning session. Following lunch, the NFL will give its final remarks. Each side will get 1 hour, 10 minutes to make statements with the plaintiffs getting an additional 20 minutes for rebuttal.

The lawsuit began on June 6 and featured 10 days of testimony from economists and league executives, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Gutierrez turned downs plaintiffs’ motion to rule for them as matter of law on Tuesday morning. He tabled the NFL’s motion until after the verdict.

That means even if a jury rules for the plaintiffs, Gutierrez could still rule in favor of the NFL and say the plaintiffs did not prove their case.

Gutierrez brought up that possibility last week when he said “I’m struggling with the plaintiffs’ case” while hearing motions from both sides.

The lawsuit covers 2.4 million residential subscribers and 48,000 businesses who paid for the package of out-of-market games from the 2011 through 2022 seasons on DirecTV. It claims the league broke antitrust laws by selling its package of Sunday games aired on CBS and Fox at an inflated price. The subscribers also say the league restricted competition by offering “Sunday Ticket” only on a satellite provider.

The league maintains it has the right to sell “Sunday Ticket” under its antitrust exemption for broadcasting. The plaintiffs say that only covers over-the-air broadcasts and not pay TV.

DirecTV had “Sunday Ticket” from its inception in 1994 through 2022. The league signed a seven-year deal with Google’s YouTube TV that began with the 2023 season.

Even though “Sunday Ticket” is available to more fans since going to a streaming provider, the prices are higher than they were on DirecTV. The league has maintained throughout the trial that “Sunday Ticket” is a premium product.

Former CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in a memo to the NFL and during testimony that the network had thought “the concept has always been that these packages are sold at a premium, thereby limiting distribution.”

Fox Sports Executive Vice President Larry Jones said during a 2022 deposition that it was important to the network for “Sunday Ticket” to be a premium product so that it did not impact local ratings.

“We think it’s important for it to be a premium product that’s complementary to our telecasts. And so long as it’s a premium product, the market will govern the extent of distribution,” he said.

Jones said yes if that meant the more expensive “Sunday Ticket” was, the fewer subscribers it would have.

If the NFL is found liable, a jury could award $7 billion in damages, but that number could balloon to $21 billion because antitrust cases can triple damages. It would also change how the league would have to distribute its out-of-market broadcasts and could lead to renegotiated contracts with Fox and CBS. The current agreements with the league run through the 2033 season.

CBS and Fox pay a combined average of $4.3 billion per season for Sunday afternoon games while YouTube TV pays an average of $2 billion per season for the “Sunday Ticket” rights.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2015 by the Mucky Duck sports bar in San Francisco, but was dismissed in 2017. Two years later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over California and eight other states, reinstated the case. Gutierrez ruled last year the case could proceed as a class action.

Whatever the decision ends up being, the losing side is expected to appeal to the 9th Circuit and then possibly the Supreme Court.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl



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