FCC withdraws support of NFL blackouts; Congress threatens action

In a sign of changing with the times, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) revoked its long-standing support of the NFL’s blackout policy on Tuesday.

The NFL’s policy blocks all local broadcasts of football games if a team does not sell a certain amount of tickets 72 hours before kickoff. For years the FCC has supported this rule by prohibiting cable and satellite operators from airing the games that are blacked out on local broadcast stations. In an 5-0 vote, the FCC repealed its prohibition of cable and satellite operators airing blacked out games.

The FCC’s Order found that “sports blackout rules are no longer justified in light of the significant changes in the sports industry since these rules were first adopted nearly forty years ago.”

The reasoning behind the NFL’s blackout policy is to encourage ticket sales and attendance at games, but the policy hasn’t been invoked much in recent years. The NFL only blacked out two games last season.

The FCC’s decision merely means that the federal government no longer backs the NFL’s policy. The NFL can still enforce blackouts on its own. It will just not have the protection of the FCC.

Congress, specifically Senators John McCain and Richard Blumenthal wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday asking the NFL to rescind its blackout policy. In the letter, McCain and Blumenthal wrote:

If the NFL fails to show leadership to finally end blackouts once and for all, Congress will be forced to act. We urge you to proactively rescind NFL policies that prevent loyal fans from enjoying the game and reform those practices that cause the league to fall short of the obligation it has to the American public.

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