LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Major League Baseball cannot hide behind its antitrust exemption to fend off a lawsuit from fans who say the league unjustly dictates television markets for its ballclubs, a judge says.
U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s ruling came after two lawsuits were brought by fans against MLB and the National Hockey League to stop their strict control over television broadcast rights.
The judge wrote that exceptions to antitrust laws are to be construed narrowly and noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has “expressly questioned the validity and logic of the baseball exemption and declined to extend it to other sports.”
Thus, she said, she was declining to apply the exemption to “a subject that is not central to the business of baseball, and that Congress did not intend to exempt — namely baseball’s contracts for television broadcasting rights.”
She said the lawsuits could proceed to trial as fans try to show that the leagues should be forced to open television markets for their games so customers would have more options at less expensive prices to watch games across the country. She said a trial would help show whether the leagues were accurate in saying the restrictions are good for the sports and their fans.
The judge said an expert for some fans who brought the lawsuits says that consumers would pay as much as 50 percent less for packages of live game telecasts if there were more competition.
The ruling, which was signed on Monday, was placed in the public court record on Friday.
The lawsuits say that the leagues’ clubs and some television broadcast entities collude to eliminate competition in the showing of games on the Internet and on television.
The fans seek a court declaration that the defendants engage in antitrust behavior and appropriate remedies, including unspecified damages.
Time Warner Cables’ SportsNetLA, who are in their first of 25-year exclusive television contract worth $8 billion with the Dodgers, is battling with providers in the LA area to help distribute the channel that could only be seen 30-percent of the market.
DirecTV, who does have SportsNet(Lakers Network) channel, said they will not carry the SportsNetLA this year because of the high cost, leaving fans no way to watch the Dodgers unless they have Time Warner Cable service
Although Time Warner and the Dodgers have agreed to take the dispute to arbitration, DirectTV rejected SportsNetLA’s request.
“Throughout our discussions with Time Warner Cable, we have always kept the best interests of our more than 1 million L.A. customers at the forefront, including those who don’t watch the Dodgers, ” said DirecTV in a statement. “It also seems that every other distributor in the market also recognizes that customers should not be forced to pay a tax nearing a half of a billion dollars for TWC’s reckless decision to create three separate, overpriced RSNs.”
Messages left with lawyers seeking comment were not immediately returned.
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