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Bloomberg: Sports Broadcast Antitrust Suits Can Proceed, Judge Rules

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12-05-2012, 01:55 PM
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Fugu
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Bloomberg: Sports Broadcast Antitrust Suits Can Proceed, Judge Rules

Hat tip to Kukla's Korner:

US District court rules the class action suit against MLB and NHL can proceed. (Not sure why NFL or NBA aren't named.)

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-1...dge-rules.html
Quote:
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in New York today denied the leagues’ request to dismiss the suits, filed by subscribers to broadcasts of hockey and baseball games. The group sued the leagues; individual clubs; regional TV sports networks; Comcast Corp. (CMCSA), the largest U.S. cable broadcaster; and DirecTV LLC (DTV), the largest U.S. satellite television provider.
The plaintiffs, seeking to represent other MLB and NHL viewers in a class-action suit, claim the practice of dividing live game broadcasts into exclusive territories, protected by local blackouts, is anti-competitive. They also targeted the sale of “out-of-market” packages only through the leagues.
“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,” Scheindlin said today in a written opinion. “The consumers have plausibly alleged that they are the direct victims of this harm to competition.”


Intriguing that the leagues, teams, broadcasters and service providers are all named. This will be a fascinating case from a legal perspective. Many fans have been frustrated over the restrictions and accessibility, which simply seems to be determined by what the leagues have implemented as territories. Not a lawyer, but I think they can claim rights to the broadcasts in terms of revenues received, but can they restrict access and competition?

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12-05-2012, 02:08 PM
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What's the practical context of this?

My first thought is this pertains to a subscription to the NHL package to get all games, only to find out they block out my local markets and force me to also buy cable. Is this the thing they are referring to?

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12-05-2012, 02:27 PM
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Basically it seems to be a complaint that if you want to watch your team out of market, you have to buy the entire sports package (like Center Ice) and can't just buy the games relevant to the teams you want to watch. I'm not sure how far that extends though...like, if the NHL and broadcasters could be forced to not black out games on their channels to people in out of market areas.

For example, say I pay for MSG Network on DirecTV and I don't live in NY. Would this mean I can watch the Rangers on that channel, instead of it being blacked out, if they won the anti-trust case? Or will this be more like a situation where they will start offering the ability to only pay for a specific teams games for a lower price.

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12-05-2012, 02:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fugu View Post
Hat tip to Kukla's Korner:

US District court rules the class action suit against MLB and NHL can proceed. (Not sure why NFL or NBA aren't named.)
By definition, all NFL games are national -- so that's why they aren't included. (Local blackouts are based on sales of tickets to games)


Not sure about NBA's "center court" or whatever their premium "all games" service is. But they'd only be included if they have regional blackouts on that premium service.

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12-05-2012, 02:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xdl1 View Post
What's the practical context of this?

My first thought is this pertains to a subscription to the NHL package to get all games, only to find out they block out my local markets and force me to also buy cable. Is this the thing they are referring to?

Probably one of the things. The class-action suit is being brought by subscribers to packages. From the article:
claim the practice of dividing live game broadcasts into exclusive territories, protected by local blackouts, is anti-competitive. They also targeted the sale of “out-of-market” packages only through the leagues.

Taking it piece by piece, not only do live game broadcasts have territorial broadcast restrictions (probably as a vestige of the pre-satellite, pre-cable, and pre-internet days), furthermore you can seem to pay for access to all games, but then find out that you're locked out by an IP or geographic location. The fans are claiming that they should be able to gain access to the games without undue restriction that stifles competition.

The second point, 'out-of-market' packages only being available through the leagues is a bit murkier to me.

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12-05-2012, 03:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fugu View Post
Probably one of the things. The class-action suit is being brought by subscribers to packages. From the article:
claim the practice of dividing live game broadcasts into exclusive territories, protected by local blackouts, is anti-competitive. They also targeted the sale of “out-of-market” packages only through the leagues.

Taking it piece by piece, not only do live game broadcasts have territorial broadcast restrictions (probably as a vestige of the pre-satellite, pre-cable, and pre-internet days), furthermore you can seem to pay for access to all games, but then find out that you're locked out by an IP or geographic location. The fans are claiming that they should be able to gain access to the games without undue restriction that stifles competition.

The second point, 'out-of-market' packages only being available through the leagues is a bit murkier to me.
Interesting. I opted not to buy the package for these exact reasons the last two seasons, so I suppose I have somewhat of a vested interest in the outcome of this.

I do also specifically remember certain cable providers temporarily dropping MSG (NYC area local broadcasts) due to disputes, effectively locking out entire geographic areas from sports due to this issue. Didn't effect me, but it was a big story here for multiple months at least one time recently.

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12-05-2012, 03:39 PM
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This is definitely a very grey area situation...

I would think simply notifying customers at the point of purchase of all package restrictions would be enough to cover cable companies arses... the good ol' Terms and Conditions page no one ever reads...



What i got - the league and the cable companies are colluding to restrict broadcasts to maximize each others' profits... while the ability is there for a service to be all inclusive in singular packages.
So the consumer has been 'hurt' by this by having to purchase multiple services when one should do to get 100% coverage.

It seems to me people are mixing up 'rights' and 'privileges' again... Assuming it is their 'right' to have access to all games at all times and not having to pay extra to get them..

Maybe someone could dumb it down for me in laymen terms a bit more if i'm off base??

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12-05-2012, 03:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DL44 View Post
This is definitely a very grey area situation...

I would think simply notifying customers at the point of purchase of all package restrictions would be enough to cover cable companies arses... the good ol' Terms and Conditions page no one ever reads...



What i got - the league and the cable companies are colluding to restrict broadcasts to maximize each others' profits... while the ability is there for a service to be all inclusive in singular packages.
So the consumer has been 'hurt' by this by having to purchase multiple services when one should do to get 100% coverage.

It seems to me people are mixing up 'rights' and 'privileges' again... Assuming it is their 'right' to have access to all games at all times and not having to pay extra to get them..

Maybe someone could dumb it down for me in laymen terms a bit more if i'm off base??
I bolded the part I think is relevant. I think that technology has changed the world in such a way that what once seemed like a logical way to define a territory (over the air broadcast reach) is not longer seen as logical or fair, but as anti-competitive.

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12-05-2012, 03:54 PM
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So... the leagues expand their coverage to the nation by offering packages such as Center Ice... but that's not good enough for this sue-happy group of people because these packages are trying protect local interests by pushing local viewers to local channels to maintain the local revenue streams via the use of local blackouts?

What's the alternative? Packages to go fully inclusive... or to be eliminated?




What i would like to see... class action suit wins and the cable companies decide to pull Center Ice and MLB (League Pass?)...

How would consumers suing like all their coverage coming from local broadcasts only... enjoy that level of coverage again people.
-would never happen because of money generated... but i think you guys get my point.

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12-05-2012, 04:00 PM
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I don't get the "out of market package only through the leagues" part. Where else are you going to get it?

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12-05-2012, 04:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cheswick View Post
I don't get the "out of market package only through the leagues" part. Where else are you going to get it?
Get each individual channel from your service provider?

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12-05-2012, 04:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cheswick View Post
I don't get the "out of market package only through the leagues" part. Where else are you going to get it?
Quote:
Originally Posted by LadyStanley View Post
Get each individual channel from your service provider?

Could it be related to the way service providers put their packages together, e.g., higher tier?

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12-05-2012, 04:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fugu View Post
Could it be related to the way service providers put their packages together, e.g., higher tier?
well, you can buy the "sports package" from say DirectTV that includes all the local fox/comcast sports affiliate's from around the country, but as soon as a professional sports game is on they get blacked out. This essentially forces you into a center ice type package even if you technically already have the channel.

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12-05-2012, 04:21 PM
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Originally Posted by one2gamble View Post
well, you can buy the "sports package" from say DirectTV that includes all the local fox/comcast sports affiliate's from around the country, but as soon as a professional sports game is on they get blacked out. This essentially forces you into a center ice type package even if you technically already have the channel.

This may be the issue partly. You have to pay more than say "basic cable" to get the all-inclusive comcast/fox packages, and then in addition, you have to pay for CI. Then there are the cases where they blackout a game that VS/NBC carries, so depending on your location, you can't get it over CI or the other pkg.

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12-05-2012, 04:27 PM
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Wouldn't an easy solve of this problem be: offer a Super Duper Premium cable package that doesn't have local blackouts.. but all extra charges that package generates over the regular one in a particular local market gets kicked back to the local broadcaster?

Or is that still collusion?

edit - i guess that doesn't really address the point of the suit - blackouts in the other packages. But wouldn't that be a non issue if a non-blackout package was made available?

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12-05-2012, 04:42 PM
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Quote:
The cases are Laumann v. National Hockey League, 1:12-cv- 01817, and Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, 12- cv-3704, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
Here are the docket files for the two cases - unfortunately a subscription to PACER is required:

Laumann et al v. National Hockey League et al: http://dockets.justia.com/docket/new...v01817/393220/

Garber et al v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, Major League Baseball Enterprises Inc et al: http://dockets.justia.com/docket/new...v03704/396344/

I did find a copy of the complaint in Garber v MLB but I haven't had a chance to read it yet:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/93077143/G...al-v-MLB-et-al

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12-05-2012, 08:24 PM
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Reminds me of when I was living in Ft. Myers Florida and for whatever reason even though I got both sports networks was only allowed to watch Panthers games. Used to be infuriating, so if this helps get rid of that kind of thing I am all for it.

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12-05-2012, 09:49 PM
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I hope they win. Local black outs are crap.

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12-05-2012, 10:41 PM
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Does this mean regional HD broadcasts, say on MSG for example, will ultimately be carried on Centre Ice? As an Islander fan in Manitoba Canada, I never get the local HD MSG, it is always the SD signal for NYI games.

I know prior to last season, Calgary and Edmonton games were also blacked out since Manitoba was then considered the 'local' market. With the Jets return, that all changed.

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12-05-2012, 10:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Furkmyster View Post
Does this mean regional HD broadcasts, say on MSG for example, will ultimately be carried on Centre Ice? As an Islander fan in Manitoba Canada, I never get the local HD MSG, it is always the SD signal for NYI games.

I know prior to last season, Calgary and Edmonton games were also blacked out since Manitoba was then considered the 'local' market. With the Jets return, that all changed.
HD vs SD is an issue of a) actually having game filmed/broadcast in HD and b) your carrier having capacity for (another) HD channel.

It's not a Center Ice issue.

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12-05-2012, 11:22 PM
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Originally Posted by LadyStanley View Post
HD vs SD is an issue of a) actually having game filmed/broadcast in HD and b) your carrier having capacity for (another) HD channel.

It's not a Center Ice issue.
I am pretty sure all NYI games are broadcast locally in HD in the NY area for people on the right cable system. For me on Bell, local broadcasts are only in SD. This affects NYR, NYI and NJD fans not living local to them. Centre Ice on Bell has 6 or 7 HD channels for HD Centre Ice, plenty of space if they needed it.

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12-06-2012, 01:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by one2gamble View Post
well, you can buy the "sports package" from say DirectTV that includes all the local fox/comcast sports affiliate's from around the country, but as soon as a professional sports game is on they get blacked out. This essentially forces you into a center ice type package even if you technically already have the channel.
Cable companies pay roughly $4 a month per subscriber for your local RSN.

Do you honestly expect to get every NHL, MLB and NBA game in a $5 per month package?

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12-06-2012, 01:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Furkmyster View Post
I am pretty sure all NYI games are broadcast locally in HD in the NY area for people on the right cable system. For me on Bell, local broadcasts are only in SD. This affects NYR, NYI and NJD fans not living local to them. Centre Ice on Bell has 6 or 7 HD channels for HD Centre Ice, plenty of space if they needed it.
The HD vs SD feed is a decision made by your cable company. I'm a Rangers fan living in Buffalo. When I had the Center Ice package through Time Warner Cable, very few of the games on the Center Ice package were broadcast in HD. As soon as I switched over to DirecTV, all of the games on the Center Ice package were broadcast in HD.

What frustrates me is that I get MSG as part of my cable package, but they black out all of the "out of market" hockey games unless you purchase the Center Ice package. I would get the NYR/NYI/NJD pregame shows on MSG but it'd go black as soon as the game started. I'm hoping the lawsuit covers this instance.

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