FCC proposes elimination of blackout policy

The NFL’s blackout policy could soon be blacked out.

The Federal Communications Commissions officially has proposed the adoption of a rule preventing sports leagues from blacking out games.  It’s the first official step in a process that now welcomes commentary from the public regarding the issues.

“We propose to eliminate the sports blackout rules,” the FCC states at paragraph 29 of it Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.  “With respect to professional football, the sport most affected by the sports blackout rules, it appears from the existing record that television revenues have replaced gate receipts as the most significant source of revenue for NFL clubs in the 40 years since the rules were first adopted.  Moreover, the record received thus far indicates no direct link between black outs and increased attendance at NFL games.

“The record also suggests that the sports blackout rules have little relevance for sports other than professional football, because the distribution rights for most of the games in these sports are sold by individual teams, rather than the leagues.  Finally, it appears that the sports blackout rules are unnecessary because sports leagues can pursue local blackout protection through private contractual negotiations.  Thus, it appears that the sports blackout rules have become obsolete.”

Multiple politicians have praised the move.

“The FCC’s unanimous vote today is a big victory for sports fans,” Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, via Politico.com.  “This June, Senator [Richard] Blumenthal and I sent a letter to FCC Acting Chair [Mignon] Clyburn, urging the Commission to move to eliminate the Sports Blackout Rule, which is no longer supported by facts or logic.”

McCain previously has argued that blackouts should be banned for any stadium built or maintained with public money.  The FCC’s proposed rule would apply to all venues.

The National Association of Broadcasters opposes the move, arguing that eliminating the blackout rules will drive events away from otherwise free television.

The NFL has had only one blackout this year, thanks in part to the ability of teams to reduce their minimum sales threshold to 85 percent of all non-premium seats.  Also, teams and/or their sponsors can purchase any unsold tickets at 34 cents on the dollar.