Suit Filed Against AK Media By ‘Little Guy’ Alleging Monopoly

By Sarah Jones

BOSTON–AK Media’s troubles are not over yet. Less than a month after the president of its Massachusetts office was mysteriously ousted, the billboard company has found itself slapped with a hefty lawsuit.

RSA Media in Boston, formerly Racing Signs of America, has filed a complaint in U.S. District Court. It charges AK Media with ‘unfair or deceptive trade acts’ by monopolizing the local outdoor billboard market and seeks an excess of $20 million in damages.

Seattle-based AK Media owns 2,564 billboards in Massachusetts, making it by far the largest player in the state. RSA Media, Logan Communications in Boston and Squire Circle Associates in Revere, Mass., each own 5 to 15 billboards, said James Lack, president of RSA Media. Lack added he has sought more billboard permits but has not been successful.

‘Basically, I’m a little guy in a market that has great growth potential, and (filing the complaint) was the only way I could see to get further into the market, ‘ Lack said.

The suit alleges that AK Media charges substantially higher advertising fees than billboard companies in comparable markets. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, AK Media charges $12,000 per month, while a similar board would cost $3,000 in Philadelphia, $6,000 in Chicago and $5,000 in Los Angeles.

‘But what we don’t have is the traffic count going past the $12,000 board and the $3,000 board,’ amended John Hunt, research director at the outdoor association. ‘I’m certain it would be similar.’

The lawsuit also alleges that AK Media controls the market by forcing property owners to agree to a lease that ‘provides the defendant with control over the billboard located on the property and control over . . . transfer of the permits issued for advertising.’ The suit claims AK Media advised ad agencies that RSA Media’s billboards are ‘inappropriate’ for their advertising.

AK Media’s acting president Randy Swain did not return calls by press time. Swain assumed the presidency last month after Lou Nickinello, the former Massachusetts state representative from Natick, Mass., was abruptly ousted (Adweek, May 5). According to company representative Roseanne Marks, Nickinello is on ‘paid personal leave.’

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