For many, pooling NFL TV negotiations plays at the fringes of a monopoly, further complicated by an explosion of new digital TV platforms. For instance, what if each team could then sell specific games to one or a number of distributors? Many believe this would create TV havoc.
And that is why, in 1961, Congress basically gave an exemption to antitrust laws by allowing teams of a professional sports league to sell rights collectively.
But in more recent times, the NFL -- perhaps the strongest of all pro sports leagues -- started even more restrictive bylaws, such as prohibiting teams from broadcasting a game into the home market of another club.
All this comes in light of a new world of D2C -- direct-to-consumer everything, where producers of all TV content are looking to own a piece of a future streaming world. This includes Disney, NBCU, ViacomCBS and others selling programming directly to consumers, not relying on legacy and new pay TV distributors -- cable, satellite, telco, and digital (virtual).
So why shouldn’t individual NFL teams do likewise?
This is something the U.S. Supreme Court will take up soon in a case brought by DirecTV consumers who buy “Sunday Ticket,” the NFL’s out-of-market package of games it sells through the satellite TV distributor.
A lower court ruled that pooling TV revenues of the NFL's 32 teams for this package amounted to an illegal restraint of competition under the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The NCAA doesn’t have the same restrictions. Many of its college associations, the SEC, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, can negotiate their own TV rights.
The NFL -- in a letter to the court -- says: “Unlike the NCAA, the NFL is a highly integrated joint venture that produces an entertainment product — the on-the-field competition of NFL Football — which the NFL then distributes to consumers through broadcast television and other means.”
Is that convincing enough? Perhaps not. Not only that -- if it’s truly just “entertainment,” we probably have other problems.