No more “out of market” games?

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.

Recently by Jonathan Willis

  • I would love to see this changed.

    The cheapest way for me to watch local Oiler games in HD at home is with a VPN for my computer. The program disguises your IP address as an American one so can watch almost any game on NHL Gamecenter.

    Which works out to being way cheaper than having basic cable, HD box and the necessary sports packages.

  • atleastwehavethekhl

    In Halifax (eastlink cable ) you can’t even get center ice on its own ….. You have to get the sports bundle at almost 40 bucks a month and this includes nba nfl extra innings soccer NHL and other crap . Even if you think this is a good deal if you like all the other sports …. You still gotta spend about 100 bucks a month on ther cable channels before they will allow you to purchase it.

  • atleastwehavethekhl

    The current system works-ish for me. I love the Oil, so I get every game, except for those against the Kings. I’m in San Diego.

    Problem is that I’ve also been a Kings fan for the past five years. And unless I upgrade my cable from $0 to $170 per month to get Fox Sports, there will be no Kings for me.

    And never any Kings-Oilers.

    Same thing with the Ducks. Good thing I hate them like few other teams.

  • DSF

    Easy to circumvent these restrictions.

    You can subscribe to a service like Unblockus ($4.95/month) which will provide you with an IP address anywhere you like.

    Depending on the streaming device you have, all you need to do is enter that IP address and enter an American or other postal code (I appear to live in Sumas Washington) and you’re good to go.

  • RexLibris

    I hope the complainant win. Even though I’ll probably be retired by the time it resolves.

    The intentionally patchworked system in place now is essentially a device to double or even triple charge the customer.

    I’m not going to rant about integrity or principle because I’m not naive. But there is an argument here revolving around ethical marketing practices.

    And I’m with Jonathan on this one. Right now I’m in the mood for both sides (League and PA) to get a bloody nose from the paying public.

  • A-Mc

    The only, and i mean ONLY, reason i don’t subscribe to NHL GameCenter is because i can’t watch local games live.

    Much like others in this thread: i WANT to give the NHL my money, but they simply haven’t allowed me to do so.

  • Zed

    So let me get this straight. If I purchase NHL gamecenter, I won’t get games televised in my local market (ie. Edmonton Oilers)?

    If I’m picking up what you’re throwing down I was very close to flushing some hard earned money down the toilet.

    The NHL, MLB and associates seem to be quite the shysters. If they don’t lose this lawsuit they should get a stern talking to.

    • A-Mc

      Correct.

      If you’re in Edmonton and you get the GameCenter service, you can not watch Edmonton Oilers games live. I believe the restriction is that the archived feed becomes available to you 48 hours after the game has taken place.

  • Neilio

    This is a huge issue in the Maritimes. We get the Sportsnet that carries Sens games! SENS GAMES! It’s a total insult, the million people in PEI, NB, NS, and NFLD are dismissed as “oh Ottawa is such a small market we’ll throw in a section of the country that’s 75% Habs or Leafs fans and force them to watch. I know SN doesn’t have the Habs games and that I’m not a Leafs fan myself, but still I was Eleven when the Sens joined the NHL….It’s nearly immpossible to be my age or older and be a Sens fan if you’re not FROM Ottawa.

  • Mark-LW

    There is actually a pretty simple trick to getting around the online blackouts that the leagues enforce. I currently subscribe to NFL GamePass, which blacks out Sunday Night, Monday Night, Thursday Night and any locally broadcast game, BUT I am able to watch any game I want.

    All you have to do is find an internet proxy server from a different country (I use a UK one for NFL) and set your LAN connection (Windows 7 – Internet Options > Connections > Advanced ) to go through that. What it does is tricks the service into thinking that you reside in London so you are able to open up the stream. However your connection speed ends up terribly slow because you are after all routing through the UK first BUT then you disable the proxy (simply unchecking a box and hitting OK) and you have your regular internet speed for the stream that was opened on the overseas connection. The streaming service does not continually check your ip for location so you are in the clear.

    The process sounds more complicated than it actually is, it only requires a bit of trial and error the first time to find a server that works but after that it’s a 30 second process. If anyone wants to try it whenever the NHL gets going again I would be glad to post a picture guide of the process.

    • atleastwehavethekhl

      I’d be interested in this. In fact if you want please post it at Oilogosphere.com. Simply sign up and you’re free to blog. I think that would be useful information that a lot of people could use.

  • DK0

    If this passes I can finally watch hockey even though I’ve long ago abandoned cable for Netflix and blu-rays. I would have no problem paying for NHL gamecenter and streaming it through my PS3, however because I live in Edmonton, the only team I can’t watch online is Edmonton. Driving me to watch the game on an illegal stream. How ridiculous is that. I WANT to give the NHL my money, but it’s not actually an option.