SBD/December 19, 2013/Media

FCC Votes In Favor Of Proposal To End Sports Blackouts, But NFL Opposes Any Change

The FCC yesterday voted unanimously to "consider a proposal that would end blackout rules for televised sporting events," according to Brendan Sasso of THE HILL. Dropping the rules, which have been in place since '75, would have the "biggest impact on the NFL, which requires broadcasters to black out games if the local team does not sell out the stadium." The rules were "originally intended to encourage fans to buy tickets to see the game live." The FCC said that it "will review public comments before making a final decision on the regulations." But even if the FCC "repeals its rules, it might not end sports blackouts altogether." Leagues, TV broadcasters and cable providers "could still agree to contracts restricting access to games." But critics of the FCC rules argue that the government "shouldn't be involved in enforcing the blackouts" (THEHILL.com, 12/18). POLITICO's Brooks Boliek noted, "The NFL contends the rule is still needed because it helps fill stadiums and enhances the game for both the TV viewer and fans on-site." NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy said, "We will strongly oppose any change in the rule. We are on pace for a historic low number of blackouts since the policy was implemented 40 years ago." The league's only blackout so far this season was Bengals-Chargers on Dec. 1. While proponents of the rule will "get a chance to argue its merits before the FCC, the commission made it clear that those wanting to retain the rule will have an uphill battle" (POLITICO.com, 12/18). In N.Y., Edward Wyatt notes MLB, the NBA and most other sports leagues are "rarely affected by the rule because usually individual teams, rather than the leagues, negotiate with local broadcasters or cable channels for exclusive television rights" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/19).

COULD CAUSE A SEISMIC SHIFT: The Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay said lifting the NFL blackout rule "would be seismic for home viewers because people have always been frustrated by the fact that you get to your television and if a game is not sold-out in your region, you can’t watch it." Additionally, if fans "have portability with DirecTV and any of the other things, you get frustrated there.” However, Gay wondered if there is a "potential bad side to this where you are going to see fewer and fewer fans going to NFL games." He noted attendance has been down the "last couple of years" and they are trying improve the in-game experience "because the TV product is so good” ("Crowd Goes Wild," FS1, 12/18). 
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