Thurm: MLB’s awful blackout rules are finally under attack in court

From SABR member Wendy Thurm at Deadspin on February 3, 2015:

Major League Baseball’s exemption from federal antitrust law may not be secure as we thought.

A federal appeals court in California ruled two weeks ago that MLB’s antitrust exemption was alive and well, and broad enough to protect the league from charges by San Jose, Calif., that it violated federal antitrust law by refusing to allow the Oakland A’s to move to San Jose.

But across the country, a federal appeals court in New York has left in place a district court decision rejecting MLB’s antitrust exemption in a case challenging the way MLB divvies up the U.S. into broadcast territories for each team. MLB, MLB Advanced Media (which owns and operates and the Extra Innings package), cable and satellite operators like Comcast and DirecTV, and several regional sports networks are facing trial in a class action lawsuit brought by fans seeking to upend the high prices and blackouts brought on by the broadcast territory scheme. This decision allows that case to go forward.

The problems with MLB’s blackout policy stem from the ways in which it interacts with broadcast and cable providers. The bulk of each team’s games are shown on regional sports networks available only through a cable or satellite provider. Just a few games are shown nationally on FOX, TBS, ESPN, and MLB Network, and most of those games are available only with cable or satellite service. But because cable and satellite companies operate as a cartel, they do not compete directly with each other in many regions of the country, and, as a result, don’t offer a wide variety of programming.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: February 3, 2015. Last Updated: February 3, 2015.