If you’re a fan of an out-of-market team, or a fan of a local team but travelling, getting a hockey game on television can be an extremely frustrating experience.
That’s why, according to a report on Forbes.com, a group of fans has brought a lawsuit against Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. Their aim? To have a court rule that the current model is in violation of U.S. antitrust law.
The full report is available at Forbes; the following is an excerpt:
The fans argue that the MLB and NHL have agreed to divide the live-game video presentation market into exclusive territories and protect these territories through anticompetitive blackouts. They further allege that these agreements are not necessary to produce professional contests, and that the agreements directly reduce competition in the live-game presentation market. The Complaint states that consumers can only watch video presentations of other teams through two exclusive “out of market” packages – those two packages being “MLB.TV” and “MLB EXTRA INNINGS” for baseball. The problem is that for both of these packages, the “in-market” game is blacked out in order to protect the local television partner. Therefore, the fan must subscribe to a cable package that includes the in-market game in order to watch his in-market team, regardless of the fact that he may have purchased the above-mentioned TV packages.
Antitrust restraints are necessary in certain situations in order to create/maintain a level of competitive balance within a league. However, those restraints must be reasonably necessary to maintain such a level. The Plaintiffs allege that these restraints are not reasonably necessary and that there exists “obvious well-recognized less restrictive alternatives.”
What are the chances of such a lawsuit succeeding? I have no idea. It would seem to have passed the first hurdle in that U.S. District Court judge Shira Scheindlin declined an attempt by the defendants to have the lawsuit dismissed.
If for no better reason than the affront of the NHL lockout, it would be nice to see the league lose this one.
The kicker is that there are better reasons – I’m a long-time subscriber to NHL GameCenter, the subscription service that allows me to watch any team I want online whenever I want except for games televised in my local market. For example, to be sure to catch all 82 games for a given out-of-market team as they air, I need to have not just GameCenter, but also access to CBC (which broadcasts nationally), TSN (which broadcasts nationally) as well as the local rights holder’s broadcasts (since any time out-of-market team plays the local guys, that game is broadcast locally).
It’s a minor irritation, but it’s irritating all the same. Here’s wishing the fans the best as they try and strike a blow for the consumer.
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