Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and DirecTV (NYSE: T) have joined Major League Baseball in settling a class-action suit filed by fans fed up with the way regional sports networks (RSNs) limit viewing access to their favorite teams.
The New York federal court outcome mirrors a similar settlement made by the National Hockey League last year. It primarily impacts fans of teams that operate out of their market.
Under the agreement, Major League Baseball will provide for the next five years an $84.99 version of its MLB.TV package that allows customers with concurrent pay-TV service to see every one of their favorite major league team's baseball games.
As Bloomberg notes, a Mets fan living in Iowa previously faced expensive choices if he wanted to see his favorite team. As it happens, six other MLB teams -- including the rival Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers -- have RSN rights in Iowa. That means whenever the Mets visit any of those teams, the game would be blacked out on an Iowa MLB.TV package and shown exclusively on the local team's regional sports network.
Enjoying antitrust exemption status since the 1920s, Major League Baseball has defended this strategy, saying it allows mid-market teams like the Brewers to carve out turf for RSNs and not be overwhelmed by the drawing power of major market stalwarts like the Mets, New York Yankees or Los Angeles Dodgers.
For its part, MLB seems to be following the trend in pro sports to open up streaming access to fans. For example, following the NHL's class-action settlement last year, the National Basketball Association unbundled its "League Pass" streaming package, allowing fans to purchase individual out-of-market games for $6.99 each.
"Major League Baseball is a winner because they settled for a deal they were planning to offer anyway," Gabe Feldman, a law professor and director of the Tulane Sports Law Program, told Bloomberg.
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