Judge Refuses To Put Antitrust Claim Against Sports League On Ice

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Judge Refuses To Put Antitrust Claim Against Sports League On Ice

Wed Oct 15, 2008 @ 12:05PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Hockeypuck Let's get excited: The New York Rangers are off to a 5-0 start this year. Yes, that's the National Hockey League, though maybe the word "league" is all wrong. Confused?

In a victory for large-market professional sports franchises, a federal judge has denied the dismissal of an antitrust lawsuit that alleges that the NHL is illegally restraining trade by requiring one of its teams — the Rangers, owned by Madison Square Garden LP — to turn over control of their website to the NHL. The lawsuit was filed last September by MSG as a significant challenge to the idea that sports leagues control intellectual property rights as a single entity. Specifically, MSG challenged the league's authority over new media since these digital properties were not explicitly covered in the team's original consent agreement with the league.

These days, sports leagues make billions of dollars licensing the broadcast and merchandise rights of their product (yes, even hockey), and revenue-sharing has been a sore subject between teams in lucrative markets and teams with a smaller fan base.

The MSG-NHL antitrust issue may deal with the operation of a small website, but the stakes are potentially much larger. Go ask Hank Steinbrenner or Jerry Jones.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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