Major League Baseball, the NHL, Comcast and DirecTV failed today in their team effort to get an antitrust class action suit against them dismissed in a New York District Court. “Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the NHL and MLB have used their monopoly power to restrict the broadcast of television programming in a manner that harms competition,” said the ruling (read it here) from U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin on Wednesday. The ruling means the class action instigated in the spring can go forward. The various plaintiffs claim that the leagues, regional sports networks and the cable and satellite companies have created monopolies over the airing of games on TV and online by dividing up territories and instating blackouts. In a response this summer, the defendants said the plaintiff’s claims were “meritless” and sought to have the case tossed. While the judge rejected the notion that self-proclaimed “middlemen” DirecTV, Comcast and the regional sports networks actively conspired to monopolize individual markets, Sheindlin kept everyone on the hook for their collective actions. “The notion that the exhibition of league games on television and the Internet is clearly a ‘league issue’ is contrary to long-standing precedent that agreements limiting the telecasting of professional sports games are subject to antitrust scrutiny,” Scheindlin wrote in the 53-page ruling.
A conference hearing in New York has been scheduled for December 18.
“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. Making all games available as part of a package, while it may increase output overall, does not, as a matter of law, eliminate the harm to competition wrought by preventing the individual teams from competing to sell their games outside their home territories in the first place. And plaintiffs in this case — the consumers — have plausibly alleged that they are the direct victims of this harm to competition,” the judge added.
The plaintiffs are represented by Michael Buchman of Pomerantz Grossman Hufford Dahlstrom & Gross as well as Edward Diver, Howard Langer and Peter Leckman of Langer Grogan & Diver PC. Several New York law firms represent the defendants.