The good news is that the NFL will have a welcome diversion from its various off-field problems. The bad news is that the diversion will come from another off-field problem.
At 10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the FCC will vote on scuttling the blackout rule, which prevents games from being televised in the home team’s market if the non-premium tickets aren’t fully sold within 72 hours of kickoff.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Representative Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) will conduct a conference call in advance of the vote. Blumental, Higgins, and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation in 2013 that would strip the NFL of its broadcast antitrust exemption unless the blackout rule is dumped.
On Monday, the Sports Fan Coalition announced a press release touting the looming action by the FCC, passing along a rumor that the agency’s five commissioners will vote unanimously to overturn the blackout rule.
The NFL has opposed the effort via the goofy “Protect Free Football on TV” movement, which suggests that lifting of the blackout rule will result in the complete removal of NFL football from over-the-air broadcast TV. We’ve asked the NFL on multiple occasions to connect the dots that begin with the NFL being required to televise games that aren’t sold out via free TV in the local market and that end with the NFL abandoning free TV altogether, but we’ve received no explanation or further insight.
That’s because it’s a hollow threat. Apart from the inevitable attack on the broadcast antitrust exemption that would result if games leave free TV, the NFL needs free TV; nothing else would allow the NFL to generate massive live TV audiences. Last week, the NFL renewed a deal with Sky Sports that ensures an enhanced presence of the game on free TV in England, since the NFL realizes that free TV means that more people will watch the games — and in turn that more people will become fans of the sport.
The scuttling of the blackout rule won’t cause the NFL to lose fans. But it will cause the NFL to lose the ability to sell those last several thousand tickets by scaring the locals into thinking they won’t be able to see the game unless they pay for the privilege to be there in person. Or maybe the more accurate answer is that it will force the NFL to be a little more creative when it comes to pricing tickets and/or coming up with reasons to get fans to choose to come to the games.
Either way, we’ve yet to see a good reason to keep the rule in place. Especially in cities where public money was used to build the stadium.