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What the NHL's Blackout Rules Settlement Means for Hockey Fans

Policy changes for the NHL's Game Center Live Package are coming in 2016 following a settlement agreement to a class-action lawsuit filed by a group of motivated fans in 2012. The changes will effect buying options for online subscribers and are a first of its kind movement that could inspire modifications to similar sports-centered TV deals.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday the National Hockey League (NHL) and broadcasters reached a settlement agreement on blackout rules for subscribers to the NHL Game Center Live Package. The revisions to NHL Game Center Live will allow for purchasing a single-team internet package for a reduced rate of $105 per season for the next five seasons whereas previously the only option was a league-wide pass featuring all 30 NHL teams at $159 a season. Game Center customers felt paying the price to watch every team in the league when they were only buying to watch one team was unfair and now a little justice has been served in that department. It isn't all sunshine and rainbows, however, as the notorious blackout rule that restricts viewers from watching their hometown team in-market on the package will stay, despite the legality of the rule being strongly questioned.

For out of market fans this deal is bittersweet. You can now purchase the right to watch all of your favorite team's out of market games without having to pay for access to 29 teams you don't care about. If you're one of the many avid Wild fans living outside the State of Hockey, you save roughly 20% of what you would have paid last year and now only get the games you want to see. Well, at least some of the ones you want to see. Broadcasters still have the ability to abuse the blackout rule for games shown in the local television market. If you live within the local market of a team any games being broadcast in said market will be blacked out on the Game Center Package. This is the big hurdle that sports fan and subscribers to TV packages like MLB TV and Game Center Live still have to climb.

The silver lining in all this settlement deal is that U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin did concede that the blackout regulations are likely an anti-trust violation. While it isn't a concrete ruling, that admission could be a crucial building block for potential cases moving forward. The settlement marks a small battle won in what is sure to be a long war for sports fans. The proposed settlement deal is by no means a knockout punch for fans fighting what they believe is an illegal monopoly, but the win could turnout to be a landmark case in future lawsuits like the ongoing MLB TV dispute. One can only hope that the blackout rule will also be eliminated in due time.