The FCC has proposed to eliminate the rule that keeps cable providers and satellite broadcasters from showing sports events lacking sellout crowds. The blackout rule was made 40 years ago to promote live attendance, but may no longer be necessary to ensure the public can see games, the Federal Communications Commission said in an e-mailed notice. Eliminating the rule would require the agency’s vote after a public comment period.
There was a quick response from the NFL: “We are on pace for a historic low number of blackouts,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “The blackout rule is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets and keeping our games attractive as television programming with large crowds.”
McCarthy said there had been one blackout, and today the Buffalo Bills in an e-mailed news release said their December 22nd home game against the Miami Dolphins will be blacked out because about 15,000 tickets remain unsold.
Professional football is the sport most affected by blackouts, the FCC said. Under NFL policy, TV broadcasts of home games in a team’s home territory are blacked out if the game isn’t sold out 72 hours in advance. The FCC rule was designed to protect home gate receipts from “invading telecasts” from distant TV stations, the agency said.
The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball and the National Association of Broadcasters also oppose eliminating the rule, the FCC said. Ending the FCC rule “may hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms,” Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the broadcasters group, said. Letting pay-TV display games denied to local stations would erode broadcasters’ economic base, Wharton said.
The FCC in January asked for comments on a petition filed by five groups that said the rule “supports blatantly anti-fan, anti-consumer behaviour.”