The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is proposing an end to "sports blackouts" for the second time in as many months. Per NFL rules, a game that isn't sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff will be blacked out in the market for which the game is played. The proposal would apply to all sports. The FCC emailed a statement, which reads in part:
The sports industry has changed dramatically in the last 40 years, however, and the Petitioners argue that the economic rationale underlying the sports blackout rules may no longer be valid. Below we seek comment on whether we have authority to repeal the sports blackout rules. Next, we examine whether the economic considerations that led to adoption of the sports blackout rules continue to justify our intervention in this area. Finally, we propose to eliminate the sports blackout rules and seek comment on the potential benefits and harms of that proposed action on interested parties, including sports leagues, broadcasters, and consumers.
This isn't the first time that the federal government has gotten involved in the NFL's black out policy. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, prompted by the Bengals struggling to sell games out in '11, asked the FCC to look into the matter in 2011.
"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. "The taxpayers who built many of these stadiums should have broadcast access to them."
Months later, after the FCC said they'll look into the matter, Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Frank Lautenburg of New Jersey, joined Brown in a letter to the FCC.
"These blackouts are ruining the experience of rooting for the home team and are unjustly hurting fans," the senators wrote. "That many of these stadiums were constructed or remodeled using taxpayer dollars underscores the disservice done to fans by blackouts."
An NFL representative said last month that black outs are "a small and shrinking problem", which may prompt the question, then why are they necessary then. Other opponents, such as the National Association of Broadcasters claims that such a move would accelerate a change by removing broadcasts from network television and into a pay format.
Broadcasters understand and sympathize with fan frustration over sports blackouts. Ideally, no blackouts would ever occur. But elimination of the FCC‟s rules would not solve the problem, as Congress has codified sports leagues‟ rights to blackout home games. Elimination of the rules, however, would hurt local broadcasters and their viewers and could accelerate the migration of popular sports programs from free to pay TV.