No classwide damages in U.S. sports blackout case, court rules

Thu May 14, 2015 3:20pm EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge said sports fans accusing Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and broadcasters of illegally restricting their ability to watch their favorite teams on TV cannot pursue damages as a class.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan on Thursday also said fans could still pursue class action claims that the defendants committed antitrust violations.

But the judge's decisions reduce the financial exposure of professional sports leagues, teams and broadcasters in the high-stakes legal battle over how to broadcast sports programming, and how much to charge.

The leagues, Comcast Corp, DirecTV, regional network operators such as Madison Square Garden Co and YES, and teams including the New York Yankees were accused in two lawsuits of using blackouts to limit broadcasts of games outside teams' home markets.

Fans said this drove up prices by forcing them to buy costly packages that bundled games they did not care about, rather than paying less to watch games "a la carte" - for example, if an Iowa resident wanted to watch the Yankees.

Ned Diver, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In two decisions totaling 128 pages, Scheindlin said baseball and hockey fans could sue as a group to address the "dearth of choice" they now face.

"Every class member, as a consumer in the market for baseball or hockey broadcasting, has been deprived of an option - a la carte channels - that would have been available absent the territorial restraints," she wrote.   Continued...

DirecTV satellite dishes are seen on an apartment roof in Los Angeles, California in this file photo taken May 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn/Files