Fans' antitrust case against MLB, NHL, pay TV moves a step closer to trial

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Unhappy sports fans won one in their antitrust lawsuit against Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV) when a federal judge rejected an effort by the defendants to dismiss the case.

The decision by Manhattan Court Judge Shira Scheindlin could push the case into a courtroom where broadcast restrictions on sports would be examined, a Reuters story said.

The sports fans filed suit because they are unhappy with what they consider "anticompetitive blackouts" of certain games based on which regional sports networks have exclusive rights to broadcast the baseball and hockey games in their areas. The fans complained that these blackouts let professional sports leagues charge premium prices for out-of-market games.

Sports blackouts and sports broadcasting agreements in particular have become hot buttons among subscribers who balk at paying more to watch home teams--if they can get the games at all. DirecTV and Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH), for instance, can't cover professional sports in the Philadelphia market because Comcast holds the broadcast rights. And the Los Angeles area has roiled throughout the baseball season over a deal the Dodgers cut with Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) for its SportsNetLA channel.

In making here decision, Scheindlin rejected an MLB argument that it was protected from antitrust claims thanks to a 1922 Supreme Court ruling as well as arguments by both sports leagues that their broadcasting restrictions were justified on "pro-competitive grounds.

Comcast and DirecTV claimed they had no role in creating the restrictions but Scheindlin brushed that aside by calling the two programmers "more than passive participants."

It wasn't "a surprise that the court accepted that the leagues and their media partners are subject to the antitrust laws," Ned Diver, the sports fans' lawyer told Reuters. DirecTV told the news agency it doesn't discuss pending legislation; Comcast and the sports leagues didn't respond to requests for comment.

For more:
- Reuters has this story

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