By Mike Scarcella
Feb 8 (Reuters) - The U.S. National Football League (NFL) must face a $6 billion class action alleging it unlawfully limited televised games and drove up the cost of its "Sunday Ticket" package, a U.S. judge ruled on Tuesday.
Sunday Ticket lets subscribers watch local and out-of-market games on Sunday, while football fans otherwise in any given market can only see a limited number of games.
The case will be divided into two sets of plaintiffs classes - individual Sunday Ticket residential subscribers and commercial establishments, such as hotels and bars.
U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez in Los Angeles certified the case as a class action against the NFL and its teams, a key step for plaintiffs' lawyers in cases that can involve many potential individual claims.
The plaintiffs' attorneys are seeking as much as $6 billion in damages for individuals and commercial entities that purchased Sunday Ticket from DirecTV since 2011, according to an expert's report the plaintiffs submitted to the court,
Satellite provider DirecTV has the rights until the end of the 2022 to 2023 season to Sunday Ticket.
Another expert's report from the plaintiffs recorded at least 2.4 million members in the residential class. The commercial class has about 48,000 members.
A spokesperson for the NFL on Wednesday did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Lawyers for the NFL and its teams have denied liability and argued the plaintiffs' lawyers failed to meet certain legal requirements to form classes.
The NFL's attorneys said any injunction changing the distribution of games would be moot since the league's deal with DirecTV is ending at the conclusion of the 2022 to 2023 football season.
Google-owned YouTube in December signed a multi-year deal for exclusive streaming of Sunday Ticket package games. Google did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
The judge's ruling said despite the "new home for Sunday Ticket, the entire class is likely to continue to be subjected to defendants' anticompetitive restraints on telecasts."
Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
A trial is set to begin in February 2024. (Reporting by Mike Scarcella; Editing by Leigh Jones and Josie Kao)