Journal of Information & Privacy Law

Class Action Lawsuit Concerning MLB’s Broadcast Blackout Policy to Move Forward

By Sean Knoll on Wednesday, October 14th, 2015
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Major League Baseball (“MLB”) currently faces a fan-initiated class action lawsuit concerning its blackout policy for game broadcasts.1 The complaint, initially filed in federal court in New York in 2012, alleged that MLB’s blackout policy violates antitrust laws.2 MLB’s blackout policy prohibits fans that watch games via MLB.tv 3 or MLB Extra Innings 4 from watching the games of teams from their home TV market. 5 For example, people in Chicago (and surrounding areas that fall under the Chicago TV market) cannot watch the Chicago Cubs or Chicago White Sox via MLB.tv or MLB Extra Innings. The reason for this policy is to force fans to watch their home market teams via their local cable or satellite TV providers, with whom MLB has lucrative partnerships. 6 However, as more people continue to switch from traditional TV to Netflix 7 , MLB’s blackout policy likely causes baseball fans to keep the more expensive traditional TV (i.e., cable or satellite) option. Thus, there has been increased demand by fans to make all games available via MLB.tv (and MLB Extra Innings), as evidenced by the pending lawsuit.

In 2014, the US District Court in the Southern District of New York ruled that legal challenges to MLB’s blackout policy are not barred by MLB’s federal antitrust exemption 8. 9 Last month, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear MLB’s appeal, and thus the district court’s ruling remained in place. 10 Barring a settlement, the class action lawsuit will proceed to trial in the near future.11


 

[1] Wendy Thurm, MLB’s Awful Blackout Rules are Finally under Attack in Court, Deadspin (Feb. 3, 2015), http://deadspin.com/mlbs-awful-blackout-rules-are-finally-under-attack-in-c-1683259431.

 

[2] Joan Grossman, Antitrust Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Major League Baseball over Live Game Videos, LexisNexis (May 17, 2012), http://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/litigation/b/litigation-blog/archive/2012/05/17/antitrust-class-action-lawsuit-filed-against-major-league-baseball-over-live-game-videos.aspx.

 

[3] MLB.tv allows fans to watch all MLB games (except those subject to blackout restrictions) on their computers via the Internet.  The premium version of the service allows fans to watch on other platforms, such as mobile devices, Apple TV, Xbox, etc. MLB, http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/subscriptions/index.jsp?&affiliateId=MLBTVREDIRECT (last visited Mar. 25, 2014).

 

[4] DirecTV offers their customers the opportunity to purchase the MLB Extra Innings package to watch all MLB games (except those subject to blackout restrictions). DirecTV, http://www.directv.com/sports/mlb (last visited Mar. 25, 2014).

 

[5] Joan Grossman, Antitrust Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Major League Baseball over Live Game Videos, LexisNexis (May 17, 2012), http://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/litigation/b/litigation-blog/archive/2012/05/17/antitrust-class-action-lawsuit-filed-against-major-league-baseball-over-live-game-videos.aspx.

[6] Id.

 

[7] Sam Frizell, Millennials are Abandoning their TV Sets Faster than Ever, Time (Feb. 18, 2015), http://time.com/3713134/millennials-tv-cord-cutting-cable/.

 

[8] MLB is the only professional sport exempt from antitrust laws. Brent Kendall, Supreme Court on Deck in MLB Antitrust Battle?, Wall Street Journal (Jan. 15, 2015), http://www.wsj.com/articles/baseballs-antitrust-exemption-upheld-in-appeals-court-1421347744.

 

[9] Wendy Thurm, MLB’s Awful Blackout Rules are Finally under Attack in Court, Deadspin (Feb. 3, 2015), http://deadspin.com/mlbs-awful-blackout-rules-are-finally-under-attack-in-c-1683259431.

 

[10] Aaron Vehling, MLB Strikes Out in Bid for 2nd Circ. to Hear Antitrust Row, Law360 (Feb. 2, 2015), http://www.law360.com/articles/617445/mlb-strikes-out-in-bid-for-2nd-circ-to-hear-antitrust-row.

 

[11] Wendy Thurm, MLB’s Awful Blackout Rules are Finally under Attack in Court, Deadspin (Feb. 3, 2015), http://deadspin.com/mlbs-awful-blackout-rules-are-finally-under-attack-in-c-1683259431.

 

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