MLB Fans’ Antitrust Suit Settles on Brink of Trial

Tuesday, January 19, 2016  was supposed to mark the beginning of a trial between sports fans and Major League Baseball (MLB) over territorial blackouts and high prices for sports packages. However, just moments before the trial was to begin, the two sides reached a settlement.

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. In a trial brief dated January 4th, the MLB wrote that “[b]eginning in 2016, a fan living outside the territory of her favorite club will still be able to purchase a single-club package (at a price comparable to the single-club package offered by the NHL).”

Despite the news of a MLB single-club package, the sports fans and MLB were on the verge of a bench set to begin in front of Judge Scheindlin that could have lasted up to two weeks. Just moments before the trial, however, a settlement was reached.

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