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FCC support of NFL blackout policy ends

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The FCC is set to vote Tuesday on whether or not to end the NFL Blackout Policy.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE

The vote has taken place, and the Federal Communications Commission voted this morning to eliminate the blackout rule. The NFL will still have the ability to negotiate blackouts into its TV contracts, but this is a big step forward in preventing the league from blacking out game if they aren't sold out, or reach the 85% threshold.

"This is a historic day for sports fans," Sports Fans Coalition chairman David Goodriend said in a release.  "Since 1975, the federal government has propped up the NFL’s obnoxious practice of blacking out a game from local TV if the stadium did not sell out.  Today’s FCC action makes clear:  if leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam’s help."

However, as Mike Florio points out, the league doesn't have to follow this ruling, and still can blockout games.

It doesn’t mean the blackout rule has died; the NFL and broadcast networks can agree to abide by its terms.  Today’s decision means only that the NFL can’t insist on network blackouts via an FCC policy that previously gave the NFL the ability to pull the plug.

The next step could be to pursue federal legislation that would eliminate the broadcast antitrust exemption if the NFL doesn’t abandon the blackout practice altogether.  If the bill introduced last year becomes law, blackouts immediately will go the way of the dodo bird, the dropkick, and Tom Brady’s talent.

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The NFL's Blackout Policy requires teams to sell out at least 85 percent of game tickets to avoid a blackout in their local TV market.

That could be changing very soon, as the Federal Communications Commission is pushing to end the league's policy that requires teams to blackout their home games if they haven't sold out.

According to Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk, the FCC is set to vote Tuesday on whether or not to end the policy.

At 10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, the FCC will vote on scuttling the blackout rule, which prevents games from being televised in the home team’s market if the non-premium tickets aren’t fully sold within 72 hours of kickoff.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and U.S. Representative Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) will conduct a conference call in advance of the vote.  Blumental, Higgins, and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation in 2013 that would strip the NFL of its broadcast antitrust exemption unless the blackout rule is dumped.

On Monday, the Sports Fan Coalition announced a press release touting the looming action by the FCC, passing along a rumor that the agency’s five commissioners will vote unanimously to overturn the blackout rule.

The push to end the blackout policy intensified this past year when the rule almost led to NFL playoff games being blacked out. When the first-round of the 2014 NFL playoffs began, the Bengals, Packers and Colts were all set to host a playoff game.

However, because none of those games had sold out by the deadline, all three games were set to be blacked out in local markets. A furious rally by all three franchises to get corporate sponsors and others to buyout the remaining tickets helped ensure all three games were broadcasted locally.

It would have been a national embarrassment, not to mention a gloomy sign of the times, had the NFL even had just one playoff game blacked out.

As it turns out, it looks like we may not have to worry about any games being blacked out from now on.