Baseball, hockey leagues lose ruling in broadcast antitrust case

Fri Aug 8, 2014 4:27pm EDT
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By Andrew Longstreth

NEW YORK Aug 8 (Reuters) - A federal judge rejected an effort by Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, Comcast Corp and DirecTV to dismiss a lawsuit by fans unhappy about restrictions on watching their favorite teams play.

Friday's decision by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan moves the antitrust lawsuit closer to a possible trial that examines restrictions on how games are broadcast.

"We are obviously pleased," Ned Diver, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a telephone interview. "We don't view it as a surprise that the court simply accepted that the leagues and their media partners are subject to the antitrust laws."

A DirecTV spokesman said the company does not discuss pending litigation. Comcast and the sports leagues did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

At issue were agreements that limit where certain games can be broadcast, which consumers say result in "anticompetitive blackouts."

Typically, regional sports networks have exclusive rights to broadcast professional baseball and hockey games in their home markets, but cannot broadcast those games elsewhere.

Sports fans, however, complained that this lets professional sports leagues charge premium prices to watch games outside home markets - for example, if a San Francisco resident wanted to watch the New York Yankees.

Scheindlin rejected an argument by Major League Baseball that it was protected from antitrust claims under an exemption it received from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922, saying the exemption did not extend to contracts for broadcasting rights.   Continued...