Sports Broadcast Antitrust Suits Can Proceed, Judge Rules

A group of baseball and hockey fans can go forward with claims that the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball violate U.S. antitrust law in their control over television and Internet broadcast rights.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in New York today denied the leagues’ request to dismiss the suits, filed by subscribers to broadcasts of hockey and baseball games. The group sued the leagues; individual clubs; regional TV sports networks; Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable broadcaster; and DirecTV LLC, the largest U.S. satellite television provider.

The plaintiffs, seeking to represent other MLB and NHL viewers in a class-action suit, 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.

“Plaintiffs have adequately alleged harm to competition with respect to the horizontal agreements among individual hockey and baseball clubs, as part of the NHL and MLB, to divide the television market,” Scheindlin said today in a written opinion. “The consumers have plausibly alleged that they are the direct victims of this harm to competition.”

The cases are Laumann v. National Hockey League, 1:12-cv-01817, and Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, 12-cv-3704, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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