CHICAGO (CN) – Comcast claims DirecTV is “baiting consumers” with a fraudulent, multimillion-dollar ad campaign that disparages cable TV and claims DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket service is available for free.
The ads, according to the complaint, fail to mention that the “free” offer “requires a 2-year contract with hefty termination fees for early cancellation.”
The irate, 70-age federal complaint minces no words, calling DirecTV a liar and a serial false advertiser:
“This is a false advertising case against a serial false advertiser. In the wake of the recent resolution of the NFL’s labor dispute, defendant DirecTV has launched a multimillion-dollar multimedia advertising campaign, baiting consumers with the claim that DirecTV’s popular NFL Sunday Ticket service – which ordinarily costs hundreds of dollars per year – is currently available for ‘free’ or at “no extra charge.’ Unfortunately for consumers, the claim of “free” is an outright lie. As none of the ads disclose, the offer is not for free NFL Sunday Ticket service – the offer requires a two-year contract with hefty termination fees for early cancellation, with the NFL Sunday Ticket service automatically renewing in the second year at full price. DirecTV has gone to great lengths to conceal this fact from consumers. Many of its ads, especially those aired on the radio, simply omit this critical fact altogether while DirecTV’s television and Internet ads employ a carefully crafted scheme of purported disclaimers that were intentionally designed to deceive as many consumers as possible. DirecTV’s strategy could hardly be more clear – capitalize on enthusiasm for an assured NFL season, claim to offer a costly premium service for ‘free,’ and get as many cable subscribers to switch to DirecTV before they realize they are trapped in a two-year – and decidedly nonfree – deal.” (Emphases in original.)
DirecTV stepped up its ad campaign after the NFL labor dispute was settled. The nationwide campaign on TV, radio, and Internet ads features Deion Sanders as the “Football Fairy,” and hype DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket.
“DirecTV’s fee-based NFL Sunday Ticket is the product of an exclusive licensing arrangement with the National Football League which, upon information and belief, grants DirecTV expanded rights to simultaneously broadcast multiple NFL regular season games. DirecTV typically offers the NFL Sunday Ticket service for subscription fees – currently $66.99 per month for five months, or $334.95 per month for a single season,” according to the complaint.
Comcast claims DirecTV disparages its cable competitors, including Comcast, by falsely claiming that cable subscribers can see only one NFL game each Sunday:
“In addition to making false claims about its own services, in the same national advertising campaign, DirecTV also is falsely disparaging cable television service generally – and, by clear implication, Comcast’s cable services specifically. For example, one DirecTV advertisement contains the literally false claim that cable subscribers only can view a single NFL game each Sunday during the NFL season. Another implies this same point with the rhetorical question, ‘Only one game on Sunday?’ Finally, a third national advertisement that has run throughout the Philadelphia market makes the claim that Philadelphia Eagles fans that are cable customers are unable to watch Philadelphia Eagles’ games on Sunday. In the Philadelphia market, Comcast not only distributes every Philadelphia Eagles game through its cable system ‘live,’ but it is also the exclusive sponsor of the Philadelphia Eagles in the telecommunications category. On information and belief, DirecTV deliberately selected the Philadelphia Eagles as the target of this advertisement in order to disparage Comcast, its competitor, and undermine Comcast’s sponsorship of the Eagles franchise.”
DirecTV called Comcast’s lawsuit “deplorable.”
DirecTV said in a statement: “We think it’s deplorable that Comcast is trying to compete in the courtroom rather than in the marketplace. New customers who sign up for DirecTV can indeed get NFL Sunday Ticket at no extra charge for one year and there is no requirement to subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket the following year.”
DirecTV added: “The last thing we want to do is mislead new customers; that’s not exactly a smart way to begin a relationship. Comcast knows that, they just have no other way to compete with our best offer of the year.”
Comcast seeks punitive damages for false advertising, consumer fraud, deceptive trade and unfair competition. It wants DirecTV ordered to correct its ads, and enjoined from using the terms “no extra charge” and “free” and “all other false, misleading, and deceptive statements described in this complaint,” and it wants all the profits DirecTV got from its ad campaign.
Comcast is represented by Douglas Master with Loeb & Loeb.