Sports fans can pursue U.S. antitrust case over programs

Wed Dec 5, 2012 5:18pm EST
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By Jonathan Stempel and Liana B. Baker

NEW YORK (Reuters) - 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.

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, cable TV company Comcast Corp, satellite TV provider DirecTV, Madison Square Garden Co and some regional sports networks.

DirecTV declined to comment, saying it had not reviewed the decision. Comcast and the NHL had no immediate comment. Other defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ned Diver, a lawyer for the subscribers, said in a phone interview: "We're very pleased with the decision. It's a total victory on the substance of the plaintiffs' claims."

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.


New York Yankees' Derek Jeter slides safely into third base after hitting an RBI triple against the Baltimore Orioles during the third inning in Game 3 of their MLB ALDS baseball playoff series in New York October 10, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar