Judge OKs MLB Antitrust Settlement

On Monday, January 25, 2016, a federal judge gave her approval of a settlement agreement between the MLB and sports fans over territorial blackouts and high prices for out-of-market sports packages.

The suit began four years ago when a group of sports fans sued the MLB, the National Hockey League (NHL), individual clubs, Comcast, and DirecTV. According to the fans, the defendants agreed in the early 1980s to divide up the country into geographic territories so that only one or a few teams could broadcast their games in any given area. U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin provided an example of a typical situation for out-of-market fans in her 2015 opinion granting class action certification: A Yankees fan who lives in Iowa cannot purchase only the YES Network — as a fan living in NY can — he must purchase an “out-of-market package,” which is unsurprisingly more expensive than a single-team package.

The NHL settled with the fans in June 2015, agreeing to sell single-team packages for a reduced price. The MLB has now done the same, moments before the trial was set to begin last week.

Under the approved settlement, the MLB is agreeing to: (1) offer season single-team packages for its online streaming service for $89, a 23 percent reduction from the previous least expensive version of the service; (2) reduce the cost of its league-wide MLB.tv package to $109; (3) implement a new product by the All-Star Break, which will cost an additional $10, that will allow consumers who are subscribers to a Regional Sports Network to watch a chosen away team’s broadcast for “in-market” games; and (4) work with DirecTV, Comcast and 21st Century Fox to offer live-streaming of in-market games by 2017, or the MLB will be prohibited from increasing the price of its MLB.tv packages.

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