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In Sunday Ticket trial, Roger Goodell defends Sunday Ticket as “premium product”

There’s nothing like Commissioner Roger Goodell being called to the witness stand in open court to get people to finally pay attention to a trial that previously had been largely ignored.

Goodell testified on Monday as a witness for the league he runs in a landmark case that could cost the league billions — and that could revolutionize the way games are made available to consumers.

He defended, as expected, the league’s 30-year-old Sunday Ticket package as a premium offering, which necessarily carries a premium price.

We have been clear throughout that it is a premium product,” Goodell said, via the Associated Press. “Not just on pricing but quality. Fans make that choice whether they wanted it or not. I’m sure there were fans who said it was too costly.”

The argument from the plaintiffs in the nationwide class action is that the league deliberately made it too costly, in order to protect over-the-air broadcasts made available in all markets by Fox and CBS.

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

Of course, there was a time when reaching the broadest possible audience on free television took a back seat to ticket sales. The league quietly suspended and abandoned the longstanding blackout policy several years ago, ensuring that all games will be televised in the local markets — even if games are being played in local stadiums that are empty. So, to the extent that the league is now claiming that it’s committed to making games available on free TV, there was a time when a significant caveat applied. (At one point, the league blacked out home games in local markets even if they were sold out.)

Regardless of Goodell’s testimony, other evidence shows that the league wanted to keep CBS and Fox happy by ensuring that the price for Sunday Ticket was too high to spark widespread purchase of out-of-market games. For example, former CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said in a memo to the NFL that CBS believed the “concept has always been that these packages are sold at a premium, thereby limiting distribution.”

There seems to be no way anyone from the league can effectively word-salad their way around the reality that the NFL picked a price point that would minimize the number of people who won’t watch whichever games are televised by their local affiliates, even if they’d rather have the ability to watch other games happening at the same time.

If the NFL is going to win this one, it won’t be on the facts. It will be on the law. And the league surely will not surrender unless all legal avenues have been exhausted, all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

Thus, regardless of the eventual verdict against the NFL (if there is one), the case will continue its nine-year slog through the legal process until the NFL has tried everything it can to do what it’s long accustomed to doing — getting its way.