Five senators tell FCC that NFL blackout policy should end


The NFL’s longstanding policy of refusing to broadcast games in the home team’s TV market unless the games have sold out 72 hours in advance has come under attack once again, this time from five U.S. Senators who wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging an end to blackouts.

The letter (available in PDF form here) was signed by senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

“These blackouts are ruining the experience of rooting for the home team and are unjustly hurting fans,” the senators wrote. “That many of these stadiums were constructed or remodeled using taxpayer dollars underscores the disservice done to fans by blackouts.”

There were 16 blackouts in 256 regular-season games last season, including six in Cincinnati. The NFL has been adamant that its blackout policy needs to remain in place.

51 responses to “Five senators tell FCC that NFL blackout policy should end

  1. The only thing that should end is the practice of federal legislators trying to tell a private enterprise how to market it’s product. OK, so many of the NFL stadiums are built or remodeled partly with public funds. A lot of private firms get governmental support (tax breaks, subsidies, etc.). Does that mean that Congress should be able to tell all of them how their products should be marketed?

  2. As long as owners and the league are fishing in taxpayers pockets for stadium dollars, the blackouts should go. Local taxpayers are paying for those games as surely as if they bought tickets.

  3. Of course the NFL wants the policy in place. It takes away the fans ability to make the owners hurt by not going.

    Basically it is, you can not go, but if we don’t make our money, you won’t see our product.

  4. ebeg420 says: Feb 14, 2012 4:56 PM

    Cincy with blackouts in 75% of their games? And they call themselves fans?
    It’s a Mike Brown thing, Cincy fans should get a pass from all of us. If Mike Brown owned your team you’d do it too…

  5. How about all of the research that has been done demonstrating that the blackout policy is ineffective? The NFL needs to come up with something better.

    I do, however, hate when politicians grandstand and tackle issues that have little to do with government for brownie points. How about you tackle some real issues? The NFL and it’s fans will figure this out.

  6. Someone already partially mentioned this but I wanted to clarify it.

    Cincinnati fans WILL go to their games if Mike Brown goes away (or honestly if he’d just hire a GM).

    This year was completely about the fact that Mike Brown has held them hostage for so long. Brown got very lucky this year. Carson Palmer trade was completely luck. AJ Green AND Andy Dalton being as good as they are? C’mon. Totally luck. If Brown had SERIOUSLY wanted to field a winning team there is no way Joseph would be playing for the Texans. 2012 was luck. 2013 will be a good year but only from the fortunes of 2013. After that it’s back into the dumps.

    Also, go look at the team that got the best deal for their stadium: Cincinnati. That’s not Brown’s fault but there was an implication that they’d get him a stadium and he’d put a competitive team on the field. He has never tried to do that.

    Until there is a GM there? Don’t blame a Bengals fan for not going to a game in Cincinnati. They love that team (Freezer Bowl) but they’re not giving Mike Brown any more money until he makes some changes.

  7. If I lived in an NFL city and directly paid for a stadium via my tax dollars, and the NFL told me I wasn’t allowed to watch on TV the games taking place in the stadium that I paid for, I imagine I’d be quite mad.

    Good for the senators. Shame on the NFL and their archaic 1970’s business model.

  8. Fully agreed with the politicians. Name another business entity in the world that punishes its customers by refusing to sell customers their product just because not enough sales are going through.

    The NFL has priced out the regular fans and the market has shown that the demand is simply not there anymore, not at those prices. Given the advent of HDTVs and the NFL’s hypocritical insistence on pushing the TV experience through the networks they accepted billions from, how can they continue to blackout games?

  9. If you think it takes long for a few senators to hash out a letter like this, then you are just not smart. The comment of they have bigger fish to fry is dumb. This does effect a lot of people and football is a Americas current most popular sport raking in billions. I for one am glad a few elected officials said enough is enough. At least they took a stand for something.

  10. If the nfl is a global game why punish the people who live in close proximity to the stadium.

  11. Yes they get some tax money, but they also generate enormous amounts of revenue(i.e. taxes) for every event at the stadium. Not to mention all the jobs that, you know, pay taxes. It’s not as if these owners are just getting free money. There is a payback. Not saying right or wrong, but it just ain’t that simple.

  12. This rule is just as dumb as the fcc rule that forces me to by cable channel packages instead of choosing which stations i want via an al a carte method. Why do i have to pay for hundreds of channels i don’t watch.

  13. The only thing that should end is the practice of federal legislators trying to tell a private enterprise how to market it’s product.
    Are you trying to make the case that a multi-billion dollar international “private enterprise,” that enjoys specific anti-trust exemption to prevent it from being subject to Justice Department action as a monopoly, and is also heavily subsidized by state and local governments, is beyond the reach of congressional oversight? Good lick with that. What brand of “tea” are you smoking?

  14. I don’t want to live in a world where the premiere late game matchup is playing to a stadium that is a third full. Not all markets have the same government assistance, but there is some debate as to the validity of the argument the Senators present. The NFL reserves the right to do whatever it pleases and the blackout rule will stay in place as it has. Some lawyers will get paid.

    If Government wants to do something constructive with its time it should fix the BCS.

  15. I like the idea of no blackouts. However that will cause a lot of people to watch from home that would normally attend. They should charge locals $5-10 per household for a game that does not sell out if that household desires to watch a game that would have normally been blacked out. I think that is a fair compromise.

  16. They’re right. If taxpayer dollars funded these stadiums then taxpayers should be able to watch. Period. If the NFL wants to force people to attend games, then they should’ve footed the bill for the construction or they should reimburse the cities immediately.

  17. All they are doing is driving people to the internet to watch streams of the game from Europe and elsewhere. Just put it on TV, please. Can’t the NFL get some money from the local ad revenue, anyway?

    Also… stop the Sunday Ticket monopoly. Just make the games PPV.

  18. ebeg420 says: Feb 14, 2012 4:56 PM

    Cincy with blackouts in 75% of their games? And they call themselves fans?

    How many games have you gone too? Sometimes people prefer to save their money in a down economy, that doesn’t mean they aren’t fans. So either you’re just like them an don’t go to your team’s games either or your an arrogant prick who doesn’t understand the economy or what being a fan is all about.

  19. They should lift the blackouts. Especially for teams whose stadiums were funded by taxpayers
    money. I go to games in Cincy when I get a chance or have a little extra coin but I’m 3 hours south of Cincy, barely in the local TV market. The NFL makes a boat load of money from the networks for the rights to broadcast the games as it is but to then black out the game for a fan such as myself that lives 3 hours away from the city (Cincinnati) is really frustrating. It’s hard enough being a Bengals fan as it is lol!!!

  20. I am a giants season ticket holder. Weve never had a blackout in my lifetime (28 years) and never will. I don’t think the blackout rule effects people’s decisions to go to games. The financial commitment and inconveniences are too great for a fan to say, I don’t want the game to be blacked out so I’m going to buy tickets. It’s all about getting networks and corporate sponsors to buy seats at a reduced rate to minimize losses of unsold seats. An owner knows the fans individually are not trying to save the blackouts, they just want to be able to call a network or sponsor to pay more to ensure their ads and commercials are seen.

  21. Only a few teams ever have to worry about blackouts.

    The only people who would whine about blackouts are those living in Bengals, Raiders, Chargers, and viking television markets.

    The rest of the NFL is fine with the current rules.

  22. Yes, as a season ticket holder, I can assure you, the only reason I attend the games is to make sure that it doesn’t get blacked out.. seriously? Does the NFL really think that the BO policy gets people to buy tickets? The product on the field gets people to buy tickets, and the price of the ticket gets people to either buy or not buy tickets.. econ 101.

  23. Hey Bobnelsonjr,get your facts straight-the Raiders sold out all their games last year.The real problem is getting blacked out on the Sunday Ticket even tho you pay for all the games.That is robbery at it’s finest.Do something about that and I’ll be impressed.

  24. I agree the gov as more things to worrie that being said I also agree if these teams accept tax payers revenue to build there stadiums they should never be a blackout in that area. I also point out that these teams get more money from the tv contracts than any seats or beers they sell all yr that’s just plain greed my friends.

  25. Couple points on the Cincy stadium situation. I believe the County is on the hook to pay a fixed price for any unsold seats (they guaranteed a sold out stadium), so the Bengals do not take much of a financial hit for an empty stadium and may actually increase the revenue as seat dollars may not have to be shared with the visiting team.

    Second, if the Senators don’t watch out, they will force the games to PPV, and all those voters they are concerned about may not be able to see any game without paying up for it.

    What the FCC can do, I doubt anything. They can fine the TV networks, but I doubt the FCC can do anything to the NFL (at least after a lengthy and expensive to the taxpayer court battle). After all, it is a freedom of speech issue where the government is telling a private entity what to show on TV at a particular location?

    Threatening to remove the antitrust exemption is the one and only tool the government has to force the NFL to do what they want.

  26. I don’t have a problem with the blackout rule, but I’m a Packer fan and we’re not familiar with this whole “not selling all of the tickets” concept. Also, I live in Northern California, so it doesn’t affect me as far as the Packers are concerned (and Raider fan – don’t be so thin-skinned. I don’t think it was unfair to mention the Raiders as one of the teams having to worry about blackouts. Several of the games were close to being blacked out last year and for a number of years before that, a majority of them were blacked out. You should be used to it).

    My concern however, is also with Sunday Ticket. If the game is being broadcast on local TV, it’s blacked out on the Ticket, and there have been several blowout situations where the local channel was showing an out-of-market game and switched to a more competitive one and as a result, we couldn’t see the game locally or on DirectTV.

    As far as the current blackout policy – if there aren’t 60,000 people who are interested in attending the game in person, you don’t deserve to see it on TV. I know it’s expensive, but do your part and buy a ticket once in a while, and you might not have to worry about it.

  27. Blackout rule will never change. Why? Because despite what they may say the senators all like one thing the NFL gives them…..$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

  28. Democrats all, not surprised…

    And the fact that the NFL even needs to “enjoy” an anti-trust exemption says that there’s already enough intrusion into their business.

    I’m not wasting my time looking up numbers but I imagine revenue in the form of taxes on tickets, concessions, merchandise, income taxes on jobs and profits not to mention the very same list on non NFL events that commonly take place make up a great deal of the initial public expenditure.

  29. Hey Raider moron, do you know Raiders have smalllest capacity in NFL and gave away 10,000 seats to most games. If you had the 65,000 capacity that the Bengals had you would not have sold out one game. Time to move again to LA. This place is not big enought for you with the Niners in town. Take your trash back to LA

    Nor Cal

  30. Not only do we taxpayers pay for the stadium, we also pay for the security and police that keep the place safe, the emergency personnel and first responders, and the freaking Stealth Bombers and F-16’s that buzz the stadium before the game! Not to mention the roads that go to and from the stadium and the overpriced parking lot, along with all the tax breaks these rich a-holes enjoy. Yeah, I think we should get to watch the game on tv!

  31. Am I the only one that noticed that 3 of the 5 are from states with no teams?

    Plus Michigan didn’t really have a pro team until last year. And Cleveland is questionable…

    Plus, aren’t they all D????????

  32. For those of you that are in the affected blackout areas you should quit whining and buy some tickets like a real fan. The teams that have problem selling out games are the same teams that have reasonably priced tickets.

  33. The only reason I agree is because of the taxpayers money being used.

    However, as stated above, dont our senators and congressmen and elected officials have more pressing matters to attend to? Stop pandering and go fix something that is actually broken. If you dont like the blackout policy then dont watch NFL games anymore. Meanwhile people are getting robbed and brutalized and murdered amd these same clowns are letting them either roam free or get stuffed into overcrowded prisons. On the other hand you’re right…. “start small”.

  34. Let’s just throw this on for size…

    If we are having trouble selling out stadiums, maybe we have too many teams?

    If the owners cannot keep attendence at a certain level, the team is contracted. Take Tampa Bay for example. They are usually at the bottom of the league not only in record, but in payroll. The Glazers have mortgaged themselves in buying Manchester United and can’t afford to spend the money. They put an unacceptable product and expect fans to fill the stadium. I’m not even a Bucs fan, but have friends who are and feel for them.

    Owners, you get a cut from televsion contracts, money from luxury suites, parking and concessions in most cases. When is the last time we heard of ticket prices dropping? Maybe if you want to avoid blackouts, you should drop your prices.

  35. “thereisalwaysnextyear says:
    Feb 14, 2012 5:37 PM
    Yes they get some tax money, but they also generate enormous amounts of revenue(i.e. taxes) for every event at the stadium. Not to mention all the jobs that, you know, pay taxes. It’s not as if these owners are just getting free money. There is a payback. Not saying right or wrong, but it just ain’t that simple.”

    Sorry bud, but the facts don’t back up your assertion of additional benefits. I think you’ve unfortunately bought into the press around this (coming, of course, from people with vested interests).

    “On the sport facility side, numerous researchers have examined the relationship between new facilities and economic growth in metropolitan areas (Baade & Dye, 1990; Rosentraub, 1994; Baade, 1996; Noll & Zimbalist, 1997; Coates & Humphreys, 1999). In every case, independent analysis of economic impacts made by newly built stadiums and arenas has uniformly found no statistically significant positive correlation between sport facility construction and economic development (Siegfried & Zimbalist, 2000).”

    I’m against any public funding for stadiums. However, I realize that this approach is probably a pipe dream. Having no blackouts is about the least these owners could do, considering their other claims on ROI are unfounded.

  36. Being that the largest income for the league is TV revenue, it hardly makes much business sense on the NFL’s part. A thousand empty seats is really a drop on the bucket economically.

  37. tailgatersanimal says:
    Feb 14, 2012 5:08 PM
    Six in Cin with a 10-6 team? Move ‘em to LA.


    Yeah, then it’d be sixteen blackouts with a 10-6, team

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