Comcast's lawsuit accusing DirecTV of false advertising is itself a flight of fancy, DirecTV said on today.
"We believe Comcast's complaint is completely without merit and plan to defend ourselves vigorously," DirecTV senior VP-public relations Darris Gringeri told Ad Age in an email.
It's a matchup worthy of Super Bowl status, and that 's not just a metaphor: The nation's biggest cable TV company is suing the country's the largest satellite TV provider, with the National Football League at the center.
Philadelphia-based Comcast on Wednesday filed suit in federal court in Chicago, charging that DirecTV is falsely advertising its exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket package -- which provides viewers with every single NFL game each week, including out-of -market games -- as "free."
Since July, even before the NFL settled its four-month-long labor dispute last week, DirecTV has been advertising that its NFL Sunday Ticket package is free for those who sign up for new service with the satellite company. That advertising has included print, internet, radio and an elaborate video series entitled "Football Cops" that stars brothers Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Comcast says DirecTV does not disclose that the "free" NFL Sunday Ticket package requires a two-year commitment, including one year of free NFL Sunday Ticket programming and a second year charged at the regular price of $334.95.
Just like two longtime NFL rivals, Comcast and DirecTV have duked it out in court before, but this latest suit comes with some vitriolic rhetoric.
DirecTV is "a serial false advertiser," Comcast's complaint alleges, "baiting consumers 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.'"
The "free" claim is "an outright lie," the complaint says, designed to get "as many cable subscribers to switch to DirecTV before they realize they are trapped in a two-year -- and decidedly non-free -- deal," according to the complaint.
Comcast, which itself has been sued for false advertising several times, said DirecTV is also "falsely disparaging cable television service generally -- and, by clear implication, Comcast's cable services specifically."
Comcast is seeking damages, legal costs, an injunction against further advertising by DirecTV, as well as DirecTV's profits resulting from the alleged false advertising.
Perhaps incidentally, DirecTV's website has been down for much of the day as of press time, and, in a very unscientific experiment, calls to the company's toll-free line were averaging 9 minutes and 18 seconds before being answered.
The NFL, a $9 billion a year business, is staying out of the fray. "We do not have a comment," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Ad Age .