On June 27, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California rendered a multibillion-dollar verdict in favor of restaurant/bar owners and individual customers and against the National Football League (NFL), related to the NFL’s Sunday Ticket. Sunday Ticket is a product offered by the NFL, beginning in 1994 and distributed exclusively through its broadcast partner DirectTV, wherein a bundle of games are offered nationwide, targeted to out-of-market fans interested in watching games of their home teams and to restaurants/bars seeking to offer this option to local fans. As pleaded by the plaintiffs in this lawsuit, the package of games “could be sold nationwide, allowing the NFL and its teams to offer a single, monopolized product containing the various products they would otherwise sell individually.”

Before we get to what the NFL Sunday Ticket decision means if it withstands the plethora of post-trial motions and appeals that are anticipated to follow, let’s look at how the NFL got here. Professional sports leagues have been under scrutiny for their actions under Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act for well over a century. The first major sport to tackle this issue was baseball, with the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruling that Major League Baseball (MLB) was exempt from the Sherman Act more than a century ago. Interestingly, when it comes to baseball, affectionately and historically referred to as “America’s pastime,” the court reasoned that there was no interstate commerce and thus no violation of the Sherman Act despite the court acknowledging in the same decision that:

“Every club in the league earns its profit not only by the drawing capacity of its team at home, but also by that of the teams of the clubs which its team visits in the various cities in the league. … The continuous interstate activity of each club is essential to all the others. The clubs of each league constitute a business unit embracing territorially a number of different states.”