AT&T’s DirecTV unit will ask a federal judge to toss a DOJ antitrust suit launched against it, claiming it resisted carrying a regional sports network built around the Los Angeles Dodgers because a similar RSN built around the Lakers underperformed.
The Justice Department filed the suit in November, claiming that DirecTV—before it AT&T acquired it—was a ringleader among pay-TV operators who conspired to shut out the erstwhile Time Warner Cable’s Dodgers RSN, SportsNet LA.
In case you’re not familiar with the matter, SportsNet LA was launched in 2014 by Time Warner Cable, built on the back of an $8.3 billion local TV rights deal with Major League Baseball’s Dodgers. TWC—which had not yet been purchased by Charter Communications—was unable to gain carriage for SportsNet LA on the Southern California region’s No. 2 pay-TV operator, DirecTV, or any other pay-TV service with significant reach in the area.
Now controlled by Charter, SportsNet LA is about to enter its fourth Dodgers season carried in only about half of the LA market.
According to Bloomberg, DirecTV is prepared to argue that, by eschewing SportsNet LA, it was merely protecting itself following the disastrous decision to pay top-dollar for another TWC RSN, one which is built around the NBA’s LA Lakers.
In 2012, DirecTV initially resisted signing a carriage deal for the Lakers channel, but ultimately caved when it began losing a significant number of local subscribers to services including Charter and AT&T U-verse, both of which had carriage of the Lakers channel.
Perennial contenders up to that point, the Lakers have been miserable over the past four seasons, missing the playoffs each year. Ratings and ad sales on the RSN have been commensurate.
For its part, the DOJ accused DirecTV and its programming chief, Dan York, of sharing information with rival pay-TV operators and generally urging them to resist carving out a deal for SportsNet LA.
Both DirecTV and the DOJ will have a chance to argue their respective sides on March 13, when a federal judge will decide if the case should proceed.
Major League Baseball’s regular season is set to start April 3.