NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell defends 'Sunday Ticket' package as a premium product

LOS ANGELES (AP) — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated during testimony in federal court Monday that the league's “Sunday Ticket” package, the subject of a class-action lawsuit, is a premium product while also defending the league's broadcast model.

Goodell was called as a witness by the NFL as the trial for the lawsuit filed by “Sunday Ticket” subscribers entered its third week and was on the stand for nearly four hours.

“We have been clear throughout that it is a premium product. Not just on pricing but quality,” Goodell said during cross-examination in a Los Angeles courtroom. “Fans make that choice whether they wanted it or not. I'm sure there were fans who said it was too costly.”

Goodell, who has been commissioner since 2006, said he believes this is the first time he has been called to testify in federal court during his tenure.

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

The NFL 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.

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.

During the first two weeks of the trial, exhibits by the plaintiffs showed that Fox and CBS have long been concerned about how competition from a more widely distributed “Sunday Ticket” package could affect ratings for locally aired games.

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

Goodell said the NFL decided to put “Sunday Ticket” on DirecTV from 1994 through 2022 because it was one the few platforms available that had national distribution. He cited the fragmented nature of cable companies for why it wasn't available on cable.

Goodell also testified that the league was not happy with DirecTV during the final years of the agreement. AT&T bought the satellite company in 2015, and the league noticed that product innovation and marketing declined after that.

In a Nov. 6, 2018, email debating whether to exercise getting out of the contract after the 2019 season, league executives cited that marketing declined by 28% during the 2018 season.

The league decided, though, to stay with DirecTV for the final three seasons of the deal (2020 through 2022) because streaming had not advanced to the level that the NFL thought it could handle the demand of handling the entire package.

“Streaming was not ready for prime time,” Goodell said.

The league did eventually go streaming for the entire “Sunday Ticket” package, signing a seven-year deal with Google's YouTube TV that began with the 2023 season.

Goodell also said the league's broadcast model, where local games are available over the air for all games, is why NFL games are highly rated.

“We sing it from the mountaintops, We want to reach the broadest possible audience on free television,” he said. “I think we are very pro-consumer. Our partners have found ways to build our fan base.”

Goodell also said that one reason the league decided to sell Thursday night games that had been exclusively on NFL Network from 2006 through 2013 to other networks was because of the quality of production.

Thursday night games were shared by CBS and NBC from 2014 through 2016 before Fox aired them for the next five seasons. Amazon Prime Video took over the package in 2022.

“I had my own opinion that our production was below standards that the networks (Fox and CBS) had set. We had not met that standard,” he said.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a member of the league's media committee, was called to the stand after Goodell. Jones also defended the league's broadcast model, even though if teams could sell their out-of-market rights separately, the Cowboys would be one of the top teams to benefit.

“I am convinced I would make a lot more money than the Bengals,” Jones said. “I'm completely against each team doing TV deals. It is flawed.”

Jones will continue his testimony on Tuesday. McManus is also expected to be called to the stand.