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The FCC Just Sacked the Sports Blackout Rule

Thursday, October 16, 2014   (0 Comments)

Washington Post (10/01/14) Fung, Brian

The Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to terminate the 40-year-old sports blackout rule that bans games from being broadcast on TV in the home team's local market if ticket sales are too low. The FCC says the rule chiefly works to the advantage of team owners and sports leagues by driving ticket sales, but consumers have no stake in it. "Everyone needs to be aware who allows blackouts to exist, and it is not the Federal Communications Commission," says FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. The rule was instituted at a time when nearly 60 percent of National Football League games were blacked out on TV due to poor attendance. However, that portion currently is less than 1 percent, and professional football is so popular on TV that programming contracts comprise "a substantial majority of the NFL's revenues," notes FCC commissioner Ajit Pai. In response to the NFL's claims that ending the rule would hurt consumers by encouraging leagues to shift programming to pay TV, Pai says such a move "would be [the NFL] cutting off its nose to spite its face." Still, blackout rules are drafted into the NFL's individual contracts with regional sports broadcasters, and those arrangements will generally not expire until 2020.

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