The NFL wants to “Protect Football on Free TV.” The FCC did just that on Tuesday, voting unanimously to abandon the blackout rule.
“This is a historic day for sports fans,” Sports Fans Coalition chairman David Goodriend said in a release. “Since 1975, the federal government has propped up the NFL’s obnoxious practice of blacking out a game from local TV if the stadium did not sell out. Today’s FCC action makes clear: if leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam’s help.”
It doesn’t mean the blackout rule has died; the NFL and broadcast networks can agree to abide by its terms. Today’s decision means only that the NFL can’t insist on network blackouts via an FCC policy that previously gave the NFL the ability to pull the plug.
Since 1975, the NFL has blocked local broadcasts of games in which the home team failed to sell all non-premium tickets at least 72 hours before kickoff.
The next step could be to pursue federal legislation that would eliminate the broadcast antitrust exemption if the NFL doesn’t abandon the blackout practice altogether. If the bill introduced last year becomes law, blackouts immediately will go the way of the dodo bird, the dropkick, and Tom Brady’s talent.