LOS ANGELES — Eating a grilled Dodger Dog is one thing.
Getting grilled over a Dodgers dispute is a whole other matter.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday (11/2) sued DirecTV and its corporate successor, AT&T Inc., for “acting as the ringleader” of a series of unlawful information exchanges between the DBS provider and three of its competitors: Cox Communications, Charter Communications and (then-challenger) AT&T during the companies’ negotiations to carry SportsNet LA, the pay-TV channel that holds the exclusive rights to telecast nearly all live Los Angeles Dodgers baseball games in the Southland.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges that DirecTV unlawfully exchanged competitively sensitive information with Cox, Charter and AT&T during the companies’ negotiations for the right to telecast the Dodgers channel.
Specifically, the complaint alleges that DirecTV and each of the three competitors agreed to, and did, exchange non-public information about their companies’ ongoing negotiations to telecast the Dodgers channel, as well as their companies’ future plans to carry – or not carry – the channel.
The complaint also alleges that the companies engaged in this conduct in order unlawfully to obtain bargaining leverage and to reduce the risk that they would lose subscribers if they decided not to carry the channel but a competitor chose to do so.
The complaint further alleges that the information learned through these unlawful agreements was a material factor in the companies’ decisions not to carry the Dodgers Channel.
The TimeWarnerCable Dodgers Channel is still not carried by DirecTV, Cox or AT&T. It is available on Time Warner Cable in California and on Oceanic Time Warner systems in Hawaii.
“As the complaint explains, Dodgers fans were denied a fair competitive process when DirecTV orchestrated a series of information exchanges with direct competitors that ultimately made consumers less likely to be able to watch their hometown team,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Sallet of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “Competition, not collusion, best serves consumers, and that is especially true when, as with pay-television providers, consumers have only a handful of choices in the marketplace.”
As of 2014, DirecTV had approximately 1.25 million video subscribers in the Los Angeles area, while AT&T had approximately 400,000 U-Verse video subscribers in the region.