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Sports Broadcast Antitrust Suits Can Proceed, Judge Rules
Plaintiffs, seeking to represent MLB and NHL viewers, claim the practice of dividing live game broadcasts into exclusive territories, protected by local blackouts, is anti-competitive. They also targeted the sale of “out-of-market” packages only through the leagues.
A federal judge on Wednesday allowed sports fans to pursue a lawsuit accusing Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and various networks of antitrust violations in how they package games for broadcast on television or the Internet, Reuters reports.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan said the subscribers could pursue claims that the packaging has reduced competition, raised prices, and kept them from watching their favorite teams located outside their home markets.
“Plaintiffs in this case – the consumers – have plausibly alleged that they are the direct victims of this harm,” she wrote.
The defendants include Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, several teams in both sports, various regional sports networks, Comcast Corp, DirecTV and Madison Square Garden Co.
Calls to lawyers for the defendants and the subscribers were not immediately returned.
Media companies, leagues and teams can often justify higher costs to watch their products by citing the higher costs of doing business, and that individual teams have rabid followings among viewers willing to pay more to watch events live.
These subscribers contended that if they wanted to watch games from outside their home markets, they were required to buy packages that included all out-of-market games, even if they were interested only in one or a few non-local teams.
Thus, for example, a New York Yankees fan living in Colorado could not pay simply for access to that team’s games, but had to buy a product such as the MLB Extra Innings television package. Other packages at issue in the case were NHL Center Ice for television, and MLB.tv and NHL GameCenter LIVE for the Internet.