DOJ catches Disney in Sports Mousetrap

Sports Fans Coalition has long argued that there is no bigger threat to fans than media consolidation. It's no secret that the vast majority of sports fans watch their games on TV so whenever we hear of a new media merger, we're immediately skeptical. Disney-Fox was no exception.

What started as a measly $58 billion dollar bid from the House of Mouse for Murdoch's empire, quickly became more than $70 billion after Comcast instigated a bidding war. Yesterday the Department of Justice agreed to allow the Disney-Fox deal to proceed if Disney agreed to divest Fox's Regional Sports Networks. As the price of Fox continued to climb, consumer advocates, like SFC, geared up for a fight.

There are numerous concerns with this merger, but for SFC it boiled down to the power wielded by a marriage between ESPN and Fox's vast array of regional sports networks. Disney owns ESPN, and to pair that with local sports programming would give one company far too much power over the fans. It would effectively give one company the ability to show both the in-market and out-of-market game and arbitrarily restrict the availability of games — especially for cord cutting fans. In December, we called out this antitrust concern, and Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim seemed to agree:

"American consumers have benefitted from head-to-head competition between Disney and Fox’s cable sports programming that ultimately has prevented cable television subscription prices from rising even higher. Today’s settlement will ensure that sports programming competition is preserved in the local markets where Disney and Fox compete for cable and satellite distribution.”

This divestiture represents more than $19 billion in potential revenues for the Disney-Fox conglomerate. While there are sure to be other dangers from this merger, sports fans should be able to rest easy that the competition that keeps pay-TV sports package prices down will remain. That all depends on what happens next: who will acquire the RSNs?  

Stay tuned, sports fans.

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