(Bloomberg) -- A top National Football League executive pushed back on claims that its Sunday Ticket broadcast package for out-of-market games violates antitrust laws, telling a jury in Los Angeles that the sports league seeks the widest audience possible for the games fans want to see most.

“Our model is the best in the world,” Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s chief media and business officer, said during the trial of a federal class-action lawsuit by fans who claim the league’s exclusive TV deals are anticompetitive. All of the NFL’s games “run free over the air,” Rolapp said. “We try to think about what the fan wants and get as much distribution as possible.”

While local CBS and Fox affiliates broadcast games for teams in their regions, viewing games outside those areas often requires a paid subscription to Sunday Ticket. The NFL is unique compared to other North American professional sports leagues in that its premium product for out-of-market games is only available on one distribution platform. For years, that platform was DirecTV, but YouTube TV became the exclusive provider in 2023.

The fans who sued the NFL want to revise its broadcast policies so that teams would distribute games nationwide on cable, satellite or online at lower prices. They claim the NFL’s exclusive TV deals artificially restricted competition and limited distribution. The trial began last week. 

The plaintiffs argue the league purposely charged a high price for the premium product and gave DirecTV exclusive rights to the package in order to limit sales and preserve the value of Fox and CBS’s exclusive deals. 

The NFL argues its deals are protected by the Sports Broadcasting Act, which “grants an antitrust exemption for the sale of ‘all or any part’ of broadcasting rights.”

Rolapp testified that its partnership with DirecTV helped to expand the NFL’s audience by providing wider access via a satellite system available across the US. He said that when DirecTV’s contract expired about a decade ago, cable providers showed little interest in acquiring the broadcast rights, so the NFL renewed the deal for another eight years.

Rolapp also said the league worked with DirecTV to offer fans cheaper alternatives to Sunday Ticket with products like NFL RedZone. 

During Rolapp’s testimony, lawyers for the NFL exhibited emails and internal league memos that showed the league considered other distribution channels for Sunday Ticket over the last decade, but ultimately decided that the other platforms wouldn’t have provided greater audience reach compared to DirecTV. 

DirecTV was also a defendant in the case, but got the claims moved into arbitration in 2021. It denies wrongdoing.

The case is In re National Football Leagues Sunday Ticket Antitrust Litigation, 2:15-ml-02668, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.