The NFL and the NFLPA currently don’t agree on very much. Recently, they’ve come together on a topic that remains largely unpopular among the league’s fan base.
According to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, the NFLPA quietly sent a letter to the FCC in July opposing the proposed elimination of the blackout rule. The correspondence came with no press release or other comment, including no comment in response to Kaplan’s request for comment.
The AFL-CIO sent a letter opposing the elimination of the rule last week, along with a press release.
NFLPA public policy counsel Joe Briggs wrote in July that elimination of the blackout rule, which blocks local broadcast of home games if the local stadium isn’t sold out within 72 hours of kickoff, “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 last part of the sentence proves that, even without the blackout rule, the games will remain on free, over-the-air television. That’s what “has made NFL games so popular and widely viewed.” Without free, over-the-air broadcasts, games become less widely viewed and the sport becomes less popular.
But still the notion persists that elimination of the blackout rule will “threaten the continued broadcast of NFL games on free, over-the-air television.” We’ve asked the league office to help us better understand how the dominoes fall in a way that starts with the elimination of the blackout rule forcing free, over-the-air broadcast of games that haven’t been sold out and ends with the NFL fleeing from free, over-the-air broadcasts, presumably to a cable or pay-per-view model.
It appears that the NFLPA has opted to reluctantly cooperate with the effort, even if the NFLPA’s position isn’t as zealous and public as the league had hoped. Per Kaplan, Sports Fan Coalition chairman David Goodfriend said in 2012 that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told Goodfriend that the league had asked the NFLPA to support the blackout rule, and that Smith had declined. Asked by Kaplan whether the NFL had pushed for the NFLPA to support the cause, the league office sent an email that didn’t really address the question asked.
And so the question remains whether an eradication of the blackout rule will result in million of fans who watch TV only through the signals coming through the airwaves at no cost losing access to the nation’s most popular sport. Without more information, it’s not unfair to assume that the NFL and the NFLPA have opted to huff and puff, knowing that ultimately no one’s TV antenna will be blown off the roof.