Judge says YES to Cablevision antitrust suit

No negotiations under way; WCBS receives windfall

NEW YORK — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the New York Yankees can keep battling it out in the courts with Chuck Dolan’s Cablevision Systems. The bitter dispute has brought misery to the Yankee fans among Cablevision’s 3 million New York subscribers, who have been deprived of ballgames since opening day.

Cablevision had asked Judge Deborah Batts of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan to dismiss the lawsuit by the Yankees’ YES regional sports network but, in her ruling, she declined the request.

“We are delighted,” said YES chairman and CEO Leo Hindery “that the court has allowed YES to proceed on all its federal antitrust claims against Cablevision.”

Cablevision is the only major distributor of cable nets in New York that has not struck a deal with YES for the 130 Yankee games the network carries exclusively to cable systems and DirecTV subscribers in Greater New York.

Yankees-starved Cablevision subscribers have helped to catapult the Nielsens of the 19 games carried over the air by WCBS to an average rating of 7.4, up 37% over the season average of the games on WNYW last year. The Yankees-Red Sox primetime game on WCBS Sept. 3 chalked up an 8.9 rating.

The YES lawsuit charges that the main reason Cablevision has not engineered a deal for Yankee games is that it’s majority owner of two competing regional sports channels, Madison Square Garden Network and Fox Sports NY. Until this year, MSG owned exclusive rights to Yankee games on cable, a loss that has taken a bite out of MSG’s ratings and advertising revenues.

In a statement, Cablevision reiterated its position that YES’ suit “is entirely without merit.”

No negotiations are under way to resolve the impasse between YES and Dolan, forcing Hindery to acknowledge that the 2002 Yankees’ season will be lost to Cablevision subscribers.

But YES is counting on further pressure this fall and winter on Dolan because the network has bought exclusive rights to the games of the New Jersey Nets, which most analysts say is the best team in the Eastern Conference of the National Basketball Assn.

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