What's the Latest?
Major League Baseball defended its controversial television broadcasting policies earlier this week and requested a judge throw out a lawsuit brought against it by an angry group of fans. The league, in filing a motion for summary judgment, argues that the plaintiff's claims are unsound, unsupportable, and a big waste of time for everyone involved. The claims are such a waste of time, says Major League Baseball, that a trial would be inadvisable and unnecessary (if not to mention extremely troubling for a league currently swimming in Scrooge McDuckian amounts of TV cash). The wonderful Fangraphs.com, whose Wendy Thurm has written extensively on this subject, has made MLB's motion available here.
What's the Big Idea?
The plaintiffs in the case against MLB claim the league's blackout rules and policies (of which there are many, adequately listed here on Wikipedia) violate federal antitrust laws. Major League Baseball has for 92 years enjoyed an antitrust exemption that has been challenged again and again on matters ranging from the doling out of suspensions to territory disputes related to teams seeking to relocate. MLB and its All-Star team of lawyers tend to come out on these challenges fairly unscathed.
Territory rights and blackout policies are understandably frustrating to many people. The natural counter-argument in defense of MLB is that the league provides a unique, in-demand product and has the right to distribute said product in any way it sees fit. These broadcasting deals are a huge source of income for the league and contribute to its continuing growth.
Yet these clashes between broadcasters and viewers feel like the beginnings of a larger battle to be fought over the consumption of media in a rapidly changing nation growing accustomed to more choice and less hassle. How much longer will customers put up with having to buy 195 channels they don't want in order to watch the five they do? A lot depends on whether the blackout policies of Major League Baseball and the other major sports leagues are ever put on trial. With billions upon billions of dollars on the line, you can be sure the leagues and their broadcasters will step up to the plate intent on protecting their interests.