The effort to eliminate the NFL’s blackout rule continues, and the NFL continues to not like that.
Via the Associated Press, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai described the league’s blackout rule as “outdated,” and he urged his fellow FCC commissioners to vote in favor of repealing the rule.
“Right now, the FCC is officially on the side of blackouts,” Pai said. “We should be on the side of sports fans. The FCC shouldn’t get involved in handing out special favors or picking winners and losers. And in my view, there is no reason for the FCC to be involved in the sports blackout business.”
Pai’s comments come eight months after the FCC proposed eliminating the blackout rule and sought public comment on the potential elimination of the rule that prevents the local broadcast of games not sold out within 72 hours before kickoff. Pai wants the issue to go to a vote, and he needs only two of his four colleagues to agree.
The league said in December that it will “strongly oppose” elimination of the blackout rule. That “strong opposition” has consisted publicly of a clumsy effort to throw money at Lynn Swann and to craft a nonsensical effort to blame the controversy on “Pay-TV lobbyists” who hope to “change the current rule and charge fans for games they currently watch for free.”
Yes, because the NFL will rush to do business with the “Pay-TV” companies who hired the “Pay-TV lobbyists” who managed to scuttle a rule that has been in place for decades.
More recently, Swann took his effort to the airwaves owned by the NFL, without disclosing on the air that the NFL has launched and is funding the effort — and without making very much sense when trying to make the case that the NFL needs to retain the ability to black out games.
The argument goes like this: If the NFL is forced to make games that aren’t sold out locally available in the home market on free or pay TV, then fans throughout the nation won’t be able to watch any games on free TV.
It’s the NFL’s version of the Chewbacca defense, a gigantic non-sequitur aimed at getting fans to fear that, if the NFL loses the ability to black out games in markets where the stadium isn’t sold out, the NFL will black out the ability of 80 million Americans who rely on free, over-the-air network television to watch any games at all.
That’ll never happen. If the NFL ever undermines the availability of games on a national basis via free TV, the broadcast antitrust exemption would be repealed almost instantly, destroying the ability of the NFL to sell its TV rights on a collective basis.
Of course, reality doesn’t matter. The goal is to find a way to get fans behind the idea of keeping the blackout rule. And the best/only strategy the NFL can muster consists of twisting the facts in order to scare fans into thinking they’d lose something they’ll never actually lose.