At issue in the suit is whether league rules dictating where certain games can and can’t be broadcast constitute “anticompetitive blackouts” that allow the league to profit off deals for pay-TV or online premium packages.
For example, the only way an L.A. Angels fan here in Philadelphia could watch her favorite team play is to subscribe to a costly package like MLB Extra Innings or MLB.tv.
Lawyers for MLB argued that the league was protected from antitrust claims under a 1922 U.S. Supreme Court exemption. However, the judge in the antitrust case ruled that this exemption did not extend to contracts for broadcasting rights.
The leagues also tried to claim that limiting broadcasts of games to specific areas actually has “pro-competitive” effects, like incentivizing individual teams to build up their local fan bases.
But the judge wasn’t buying it. She explained that “consciously depriving consumers of out-of-market games they would prefer” is not “a permissible aim under the antitrust laws.”
Meanwhile, the pay-TV powerhouses at Comcast and DirecTV argued that they shouldn’t be involved in the case because they have nothing to do with setting sports leagues’ broadcasting limitations, but the judge said there is evidence that the two companies “more than passive participants.”
The plaintiffs’ lawyer is obviously pleased by the ruling.
“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,” he told Reuters.