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NYC judge refuses to block NHL from controlling Rangers website

NEW YORK - A judge refused to block the NHL from taking control of the New York Rangers' website despite claims that the league is acting like "an illegal cartel" by controlling team promotions.

U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska said Friday that the NHL seemed on solid legal ground when it decided to take control of its clubs' websites to strengthen the quality of its Internet relationship with fans and advertisers.

She said in a written opinion that her conclusion was "bolstered by the fact that MSG has shown no harm whatsoever to consumers, especially in light of the facts that the team maintains control over most of the content of the new website and fans can still get access directly to the Rangers site through newyorkrangers.com."

Preska also said evidence showed that fans prefer the league's new Internet strategy over one that left more control in the hands of the individual clubs.

The ruling said the league had decided it was necessary to create a league brand with centralized control of team sites to compete with other major sports entertainment providers.

Although the judge hasn't yet heard all of the evidence in the case, she refused to block the NHL in its efforts, while the litigation proceeds, a process that could take months.

She said it seemed unlikely that MSG would succeed in claims contained in a September lawsuit.

In a statement, MSG promised to appeal, saying it still believed the Rangers will be irreparably harmed if the website is left in the NHL's hands.

"This decision is only one step in what will be a very long legal process and we look forward to having the opportunity to present the facts, which support our position," MSG said.

Earlier this year, at the start of hockey playoffs, MSG said it increased its competitive offerings by making Rangers-branded merchandise available through the Rangers' website rather than a catalogue, and by making games available to subscribers on its website.

The NHL forced MSG to withdraw the plan by imposing a US$100,000-per-day penalty. When the company refused to pay the fines, the league withheld $200,000 from third-party payments due MSG, MSG said.

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