The NFL has some of the most passionate fans of any professional sports league in the country. Friendships and rivalries are formed between people based on which NFL team they root for and a diehard Bengals fan isn't likely to be best friends with a diehard Steelers fan. However, if you got NFL fans from every team in one room and asked them all what their least favorite thing about the league was, they would all likely say the NFL's blackout policy, which doesn't allow fans that live within 75 miles of the stadium to watch the game on TV if that game does not sell out.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown lives in Cleveland so he'll be able to watch this weekend's Browns-Bengals game, but anybody who lives within 75 miles of the stadium (me) won't be able to because the game didn't sell out and will be backed out locally. Even though Brown isn't necessarily affected, he is seeking to end the blackout by appealing to the Federal Communications Commission to force the NFL to end blackouts.
"I'm urging the FCC to take a fresh look at the Sports Blackout Rule and allow fans to watch their home team play on television," Brown said Wednesday. "The taxpayers who built many of these stadiums should have broadcast access to them."
T'his isn't the first time that Sen. Brown has taken on the NFL's blackout policy. Last year he appealed directly to the league to change their broadcast rules for a team that doesn't sell out to no avail. He is trying again because of the movement started by the Sport Fans Coalition, a non-profit fan organization based out of Washington D.C., which filed a petition signed by some other public interest groups that asked the government to stop blackouts.
"Blackouts are one of the most anti-consumer practices out there," said Brian Frederick, executive-director for the coalition. "Because of the public's massive investment in sports in terms of taxpayer subsidies and anti-trust exemptions, the least the league could do is show the games on television.
"This is such a counter-productive way to build a fan base. They are putting the interests of immediate profits ahead of the long-term business."
Of course there's another side too. NFL spokesman Dave Aiello, whose name you may remember from the recent NFL lockout, stated that the blackout rule is important to the NFL because without it the incentive to buy tickets would disappear and it supports teams and their stadiums.
"The blackout policy is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets ... and ensuring that we can continue to keep our games on free TV," Aiello said.
"Playing in full stadiums with thousands of fans is an important part of what makes NFL football an exciting and special entertainment event, both live and on television. We have a limited number of games and do not want to erode the incentive to buy tickets."
The blackout policy is out of date. It was a rule created in 1973 and was passed by congress and came about before the invention of the Internet, which now allows fans to watch blacked out games even if they live within 75-miles of the stadium. Really, where the blackout policy used to be an incentive to buy tickets, it is now just a minor inconvenience and nothing more. In today's economy it makes the NFL, which, as a league, strives to show that they care about their fans, look completely disconnected from the people who support their league, many of whom are struggling under the weight of too many bills and a poor economy.
Unfortunately, the NFL looks completely unwilling to change their out-of-date blackout rule and completely unwilling to appease their fans. Instead of figuring out a way to make money off TV contracts for games that aren't sold out (like some sort of pay-per-view option for blacked out games) they seem perfectly content to lose money and alienate fans. Their loss.
Visit BengalsBlackoutLifters.com, who were nice enough to join us on one of our podcasts, to see what they're trying to do to end the blackouts in Cincinnati.