The Federal Communications Commission ordered the elimination today of sports blackout rules that blocked cable and satellite broadcasts of games blacked out on local stations.
a local broadcast station.
“The action removes Commission protection of the NFL’s current private blackout policy, which requires local broadcast stations to black out a game if a team does not sell a certain percentage of tickets to the game at least 72 hours prior to the game,” the FCC said in a statement.
The FCC’s order found the blackout rules are “no longer justified in light of the significant changes in the sports industry since these rules were first adopted nearly forty years ago.”
“At that time, ticket sales were the primary source of revenue for the NFL and most NFL games failed to sell out. Today, television revenues have replaced ticket sales as the NFL’s main source of revenue, and blackouts of NFL games are increasingly rare.”
Only two games were blacked out last season, the FCC said.
“Today’s action may not eliminate all sports blackouts, because the NFL may choose to continue its private blackout policy. However, the NFL will no longer be entitled to the protection of the Commission’s sports blackout rules. Instead, the NFL must rely on the same avenues available to other entities that wish to protect their distribution rights in the private marketplace.”
The league, which objected to lifting the rules, said in a statement that teams “have made significant efforts in recent years to minimize blackouts.”
“The NFL is the only sports league that televises every one of its games on free, over-the-air television. The FCC’s decision will not change that commitment for the foreseeable future.”
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked the FCC in June to lift the blackout rule, arguing in a letter to the commission that it “unfairly harms consumers by insulating the NFL from market realities and punishing fans in cities with large stadiums and declining populations.”
Today, Blumenthal declared the FCC “officially threw a flag on the NFL’s anti-fan blackout policy.”
“The sports blackout rule unfairly harms consumers by punishing fans in cities with large stadiums and declining populations,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “The FCC did the right thing today by removing this antiquated rule, which is no longer justified by facts or simple logic.”
“Even as the NFL made millions upon millions of dollars off of broadcasting rights, they continued as recently as this season to threaten fans with unnecessary blackout restrictions.”