(Editor's note: Brian Frederick is Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition and an occasional blogger at SBNation.com. Brian is passionate about the NFL's "Blackout Rule" and holds the opinion that Bengals fans have it the worst amongst any other fanbases regarding the consequences of the rule. The following is a write up that Brian did for us at Cincy Jungle about his organization. A big thanks to Brian for his contribution. Enjoy.)
The FCC’s recent decision to look at its sports blackout news should come as welcome news to Bengals fans. This season, the Bengals had the most blackouts of any city in America. While owners in other cities have made efforts to minimize blackouts, Bengals owner Mike Brown seems to have made no such efforts. The average Bengals ticket cost $72 this season, which is more than 15 other teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles. That Bengals fans should have to pay more than Eagles fans to see a game is utterly absurd. After all, the Bengals have had only 3 winning seasons in the last 20 years and the Bengals lost their first postseason game each of those 3 years.
And then there’s the enormous cost Hamilton County is paying for the stadium. Most experts consider the arrangement between the county, the team and Paul Brown Stadium to be one of the worst deals in history. Just consider the fact that five years from now, the county will have to pay the Bengals to play its games in Paul Brown Stadium. So Bengal fans will have had to pay for construction of the stadium, improvements, and eventually "reverse rent" to the Bengals, in addition to the higher than average cost of tickets. And if they don’t, the games will be blacked out. Absurd.
How Mike Brown thinks he can build a fan base by blacking out potential customers is beyond me. But let’s focus on what fans can do to do fight back.
In November, Sports Fans Coalition and four other public interest groups filed a petition asking the FCC to eliminate its sports blackout rule. The FCC’s rule says that if league rules prohibit a local broadcaster from carrying a game, then cable and satellite companies are also prohibited. That’s why even fans with DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket still can’t see the blacked out games. It’s a needless government regulation that only serves to prop up the leagues’ anti-fan blackout policies.
Sen. Sherrod Brown offered his support in November after the ridiculous Browns-Bengals blackout on Thanksgiving weekend and just last Thursday, the FCC agreed to the first review of sports blackouts in 36 years.
Here’s what FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell had to say about the agency’s action:
Taking a fresh look at this 36-year-old rule could be constructive as we look for rules to streamline and modernize. Over almost four decades, the economics and structure of both the sports and communications industries have experienced dramatic evolutions. We now live in a world with not only local broadcast stations, but also cable, satellite, the Internet and wireless, and where television and merchandizing revenues exceed ticket sales. It is appropriate for us to re-examine the rule in light of marketplace changes.
The media landscape has certainly changed drastically, even if sports broadcasting hasn’t. It’s time to reconsider how the leagues use the media, especially considering we grant them an antitrust exemption to negotiate broadcast contracts.
Anyway, for the next three weeks, the government actually wants to hear from sports fans. And nowhere is it more important that sports fans speak up than in cities like Cincinnati.
Sports Fans Coalition is trying to make it easy for fans to submit comments to the FCC. You can do so here, and soon, at EndBlackouts.com. But we also could use some help from some fans in Cincinnati who would like to get off the sidelines and into the game. If you’re interested in helping lead the Sports Fans Coalition Cincinnati chapter, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Never have fans had a great opportunity to put an end to blackouts. Bengals fans need to make some noise!