SBD/November 4, 2013/Media

FCC Chair Proposes An End To Sports Blackouts, But Ultimate Effect On NFL Unclear

Clyburn questions whether NFL blackouts are in the public's best interest
Acting FCC Chair Mignon Clyburn is "proposing to eliminate the sports blackout rule, which currently prevents cable and satellite television providers from airing" NFL or other pro games "if they are blacked out on local TV stations because of low attendance," according to Amy Schatz of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Clyburn said in a statement, "Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games." The impact of any change on the NFL "remains unclear because the number of blacked-out NFL games has been limited in recent years." The NFL said that last year 15 games "were blacked out." Even if the FCC rule was "lifted, it wouldn't stop sports leagues and television providers such as cable companies from reaching their own agreements to limit where games are shown." The FCC has said that "such voluntary agreements are responsible for most blackouts." Incoming FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, a former cable TV lobbyist, said that he "would support looking into whether the rules were still necessary, but it is not clear whether he'll make the issue a priority" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/2).

DARK MATTER: Buffalo Fan Alliance President Matt Sabuda said that the proposed change will "put pressure on the NFL to abandon its blackout policy." In Buffalo, Jerry Zremski noted Sabuda is "the leading local figure in the effort to get the NFL to ease its television blackout policy." Sabuda said, "This is probably the tipping point to get the NFL to get rid of its blackout rule altogether." Zremski noted both the FCC rule and the NFL’s blackout rule "have been under assault" from U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) and other lawmakers. Higgins said, "Blackout rules are unfair, outdated and alienate dedicated fans." Higgins has been "making that case in Congress in recent years and has won increasing numbers of lawmakers to his side" (BUFFALO NEWS, 11/2).
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