Last month we told you about a lawsuit provider Dish Network filed against ESPN, seeking over $150 million in damages from Bristol violating terms of their agreement.  At the center of the trial was Dish's claims that ESPN tried to circumvent their "most favored nation" clause, which meant Dish had to receive comparable contract numbers versus their competitors.

A jury has reached a verdict in the trial and ESPN walks away the clear victor.  Dish Network won only 1 of its 4 claims against ESPN to the tune of just $4.86 million in damages, or a juicy 3.17% of what they were seeking from Bristol.  Out of all the claims for damages lodged by Dish Network, the jury found that ESPN only had to match rates given elsewhere for ESPN Deportes.  Details from the Wall Street Journal:

"A federal jury in Manhattan ordered ESPN Inc. to pay Dish Network Corp. $4.86 million in damages in a dispute over licensing rates for sports broadcasts.

Dish Network alleged that the sports broadcaster violated an eight-year broadcast licensing agreement by offering more favorable rates to the satellite provider's competitors. The agreement is set to expire later this year.

The case is the latest in series of disputes between cable and satellite providers and television networks over rising licensing costs, which have sometimes resulted in blackouts on programming.

The jury on Thursday found in favor of Dish Network on only one of its four claims: that ESPN had allowed Dish's competitors to pay a lower rate for ESPN Deportes, the broadcaster's Spanish-language channel. Dish Network had sought more than $152 million in the dispute."

$4.86 million dollars to a multi-billion dollar company like ESPN is like handing over the loose change in the couch cushion, not the entire couch, just one cushion.  This is a company that just paid $20 million a year for The Conference Formerly Known As The Big East solely for the sake of keeping it away from NBC Sports Network.

While Dish largely failed in their claims against ESPN, it's just another skirmish in the battle between cable and satellite providers and sports networks over rising fees.  We've seen several disputes over networks like Versus, Big Ten Network, and others.  But with ESPN's exorbitant fees that dwarf every other cable network exponentially, will other providers look to squeeze every cent out of Bristol they can?

With talk of a la carte cable packages and a sports rights bubble with all the money being spent in the field, watch this space for future developments.  This Dish-ESPN dispute may be just a foreshadowing towards a day when cable and satellite providers, and more importantly consumers, question whether the cost of sports networks are truly worth it.  Even ESPN.

[Wall Street Journal]

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