Yesterday, it was announced that the NHL had come to a settlement with fans over a pending class action lawsuit. The suit focused on a claim that the league, several teams, Comcast Corp, DirecTV, and Madison Square Garden Co., used blackouts to limit out-of-market broadcasts of games. Fans said this forced them to buy costly bundles – the NHL’s “Center Ice” package – of games they did not care about, rather than spend less to buy games “a la carte,” if they wanted to watch their preferred teams.’
According to reports, the terms of the settlement mean that the NHL will, for the next five years, offer a “Game Center Live” internet package enabling fans to buy single-team packages for at least 20 percent below the cost of bundled packages. The NHL will also discount “early bird” renewal and full-season prices by an additional 17.25 percent for the 2015-2016 season, allowing a fan who now pays $159 for a game bundle to, instead, buy a single-team package for about $105.
Howard Langer, a lawyer representing the fans’ interests, said of the settlement that it was “fair, reasonable, and adequate.” He also said that the settlement becomes the “first time in any U.S. major league sport that consumers could choose between buying a league-wide out-of-market game bundle, or watching only their favorite teams, on a season-long basis.”
The consumer struggle to avoid buying access to every game that a league offers is widespread, but the result of this class action suit could bode well for fans of other leagues; currently Major League Baseball is battling a similar suit that takes aim at their “Extra Innings” package, as well as the NFL, which has long faced criticism for their similar “Sunday Ticket” package. As Mike Florio of NBC’s “Pro Football Talk” points out, “the door is now open for an ambitious group of lawyers to recruit a plaintiff or two, to file the lawsuit challenging the inability to buy the out-of-market games for only one team, to go through the motions of working up the case for a couple of years, and then to receive a multi-million-dollar fee as part of yet another settlement that never really settles the issue.”