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NFL sues insurance companies over Sunday Ticket antitrust litigation

Charles Robinson joins the show to talk about the fallout of the NFLPA's survey of all 32 teams, which revealed some truly shocking facts about life as an NFL player.

As the NFL continues to battle with insurance companies that (spoiler alert) don’t want to pay benefits in connection with the concussion lawsuits and settlements, Big Shield has a new fight with Big Insurance over the availability of coverage for a Sunday Ticket antitrust action filed against the NFL in 2015.

Sports attorney Daniel Wallach revealed the lawsuit, filed last November, in a tweet. Wallach then forwarded to PFT the complaint and the more recent filing -- a document confirming that the insurance companies have until March 13 to respond to the lawsuit.

The generalities trace back to the origins of an industry based on taking money in and, under just the right circumstances, paying money out. When a company’s only product is money, it doesn’t want to give money away when it shouldn’t. It often doesn’t want to give money away when it should.

In this specific case, the NFL claims that insurance companies responsible for “excess” coverage (in English, the NFL burned through its main insurance policy and then turned to backups) have refused to pay money that would cover attorneys’ fees and other expenses in defending against the still-pending antitrust case. The NFL alleges that the excess coverage providers initially seemed to acknowledge the responsibility to provide coverage before changing their tune in 2021.

The excess insurance companies allegedly are trying to tie the 2015 antitrust case to a similar 1997 lawsuit, arguing that both matters amount to one “claim” that predates the insurance coverage that the league is now trying to activate.

The stakes are fairly high. The complaint points out that the NFL has already exhausted the initial $10 million in available insurance, with all money presumably paying only attorneys’ fees and expenses. (Maybe I should have kept practicing law, after all.) The league is now trying to activate multiple layers of excess coverage, with policies that cover $10 million to $20 million, $20 million to $30 million, $30 million to $40 million, $40 million to $50 million, and $50 million to $60 million.

Again, the Sunday Ticket antitrust case is still pending. Although we’ve yet to dive into that specific piece of litigation, the potential antitrust issues with the entire approach to Sunday Ticket have always been hiding in plain sight. The league and, from 1994 through 2022, DirecTV, have made the product available for one global price for the entire season. All out-of-market games, with no ability to buy specific weekends or individual games.

Regardless of whether the NFL wins or loses the case, the legal fees and expenses will keep mounting. Already, more than $10 million has been incurred. How much more will be spent before the case is resolved?

Even if the NFL gets the $50 million in excess insurance that the new lawsuit pursues, the league could be looking at paying out plenty more, based on how the antitrust case goes. No matter the final price tag, the total revenue that the NFL has generated from its all-or-nothing approach to Sunday Ticket will dwarf it.