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To settle a consumer antitrust suit, the National Football League has agreed to revamp the way it markets its “Sunday Ticket” — to allow viewers to purchase it on a weekly basis instead of buying the entire 17 weeks as a package — and to pay out more than $13 million. Under the proposed settlement, consumers will share a pool of $7.5 million in cash and will be entitled to coupons for discounts on merchandise from the NFL Shop. Plaintiffs’ lawyers will also be paid $3.7 million in fees and expenses, and the NFL will foot the $2.3 million costs of notifying the class. U.S. District Judge Eduardo C. Robreno will hold a hearing on Friday on the issue of whether to grant “preliminary approval” of the settlement. If he does so, a notice of the proposed settlement will be sent to more than 1.8 million class members and the judge will hold a second hearing on final approval in early summer. In the suit, which was filed in 1997, satellite TV viewers complained that the NFL and its member teams had illegally “bundled” the Sunday Ticket so that consumers were forced to purchase the rights to view all of the games — instead of just the few they might be interested in. The suit cleared its first major hurdle when U.S. District Judge Robert S. Gawthrop III ruled that professional football’s exemption from antitrust laws does not extend to satellite broadcasts. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling after Gawthrop’s death. The case was reassigned to Judge Robreno, who later rejected the NFL’s argument that he should dismiss all claims for monetary damages since the class members are all “indirect purchasers.” Under the proposed settlement, the Sunday Ticket will still be “bundled,” meaning that viewers will purchase the rights to all of the games. But the NFL has agreed to sell the Sunday Ticket both on an annual and a weekly basis. While the full season costs about $160, the weekly price is $29.99. “This is a compromise,” said lead plaintiffs’ attorney Howard J. Sedran of Levin Fishbein Sedran & Berman. “We were trying to allow consumers to buy games on an � la carte basis.” But Sedran said discovery showed that individual marketing of the games would be impossible for the folks at Direct TV who said they could not handle a total unbundling of the package. The settlement is good for consumers, Sedran said, because market studies showed that many viewers were interested in buying only a few weekends. He also said that he suspects the NFL and its teams will make more money because the demand for the weekly Sunday Ticket will increase. But Sedran stressed that the settlement has not yet won even preliminary approval from the court and that Judge Robreno has scheduled an evidentiary hearing before deciding whether to allow the lawyers to notify the class and seek comment. The $7.5 million cash portion of the settlement will be shared by class members who file claims after final approval. Typically, Sedran said, only a fraction of the class actually files claims. Those who file claims will also be entitled to a 10 percent discount on up to $75 in merchandise purchased from the NFL Shop, a merchandising arm of the NFL that sells through the Internet and by mail order. Consumers who purchased the Sunday Ticket at least three times between 1994 and 2000 will also be entitled to a second discount of 15 percent on one purchase of merchandise worth more than $75 but less than $150. The NFL will also pay the $2.3 million expected costs of administrating the settlement. Any costs over $2.3 million will come out of the settlement fund. Assisting Sedran on the plaintiffs’ team are co-lead counsel Dennis Stewart of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach in San Diego; Donald E. Haviland Jr. and Austin Cohen of Levin Fishbein; Roberta Liebenberg of Fine Kaplan & Black; Ira Neil Richards of Rodriguez & Richards; and David T. Shulick of Frank & Rosen. The NFL was represented by attorney Richard P. McElroy of Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley, along with Peter J. Nickles, Timothy C. Hester, Neil K. Roman and Amy-Kelley Kemper of Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C.

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