NFL Hit with Automatic Renewal Lawsuit (and Hyperbole)
Last week, a plaintiff filed a proposed class action against the NFL over its automatic renewal practices. The plaintiff alleges that the company used deceptive practices to automatically subscribe its Game Pass users to a new streaming service, NFL+, without their clear knowledge or consent, and that the NFL later made it difficult for them to cancel. It’s a little hard to tell from the complaint exactly what happened, but the gist of the argument is familiar. The plaintiff alleges that when he learned that his Game Pass subscription was going to be converted to an NFL + subscription, he attempted to cancel. He found the cancellation instructions to be unclear and unintuitive, and he was charged a fee, even after he thought he had cancelled. His attempts to resolve the problem by talking to chatbots and live representatives were frustrating and didn’t help. The complaint then makes some interesting guesses about what happened behind the scenes. The plaintiff alleges that the NFL has “a scientifically designed process” to reduce “churn,” and that the process has “been developed and tested by experts in behavioral science and psychology and include interrelated manipulative design tactics referred to as ‘dark patterns.’” As a result, he alleged that the NFL “can scientifically ensure that no more than a fixed percentage of users will successfully navigate the gauntlet of obstacles laid down in front of them if they decide to cancel.” The plaintiff’s attorney added a little more color to his theories when he told Law360 that the NFL had a practice of “trapping [consumers] in a Rube Goldberg machine combining elements of whack-a-mole and one of those mazes with the mirrors where you can’t get out.” (If any of our readers would like to share their ideas of what such a machine would look like, please send us your sketches, and we’ll add the winning designs to this post.) It’s too early to predict how this case will turn out, whether consumers will escape the maze-like machine, or whether any moles will get whacked. But it is easy to predict that these types of cases will continue. If you offer automatically renewing subscriptions, you should obviously make sure you comply with relevant laws. Beyond technical compliance, though, you should take a look at your user interface to make sure it’s intuitive for consumers. And you should monitor complaints, which could provide hints of problems.