SBJ/Sept. 1-7, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL, union fight effort to repeal blackout rule

The NFL and the NFL Players Association do not often agree, but there is one subject in the public discussion now on which they are standing together: opposition to a proposed rule at the Federal Communications Commission to lift the controversial blackout policy that prevents local broadcasts of games if they are not sold out within 72 hours of kickoff.

The NFLPA in July filed a letter with the FCC opposing the proposal. Last week, the group’s parent union, the AFL-CIO, also wrote to the government agency objecting to a change.

Repealing the blackout rule “will threaten the continued broadcast of NFL games on free, over-the-air television, hurting football fans and threatening the business model that has made NFL games so popular and widely viewed,” the NFLPA’s public policy counsel, Joe Briggs, wrote in July.

Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO’s president, wrote last week, “The current broadcast rules promote full stadiums, which provide jobs and incomes for the working people we are proud to represent.”

The Sports Fan Coalition, the lobbying group that has spearheaded the drive to lift the blackout rule, charged the NFL with providing the impetus for labor now coming out against the effort. David Goodfriend, the coalition’s chairman, said two years ago that NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith told him the NFL had asked him to oppose the anti-blackout effort and Smith said then that he had declined the league’s overture.

The NFLPA did not return requests for comment.

The NFL, in response to a question of whether it pushed for the union letters, responded in an email: “Sports leagues, broadcasters and other groups work together on a variety of policy issues. They all share an interest in this issue. We have met with other organizations that have an interest in preserving this rule. Likewise, the NAB [National Association of Broadcasters] and the NFLPA reached [out] to relevant organizations that may be negatively affected by a change. It is up to these organizations if they want to file letters.”

The arguments remain the same as they’ve been for years. The NFL contends that the blackout rule helps push teams to sell and market their games, and it prevents cable operators and satellite companies from transmitting out-of-market games into home-team markets. Opponents of the rule argue that the NFL already has contracts with most cable companies and can prevent the feared broadcast of out-of-market games.

The talk all comes as the NFL last season registered its fewest blackouts in history: two out of 256 games, smashing the previous low of seven games from 2006.

The FCC may vote on the proposal in coming months, Goodfriend said. 

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