Conference Of State Legislators Backs FCC Sports Blackout Rule

The National Conference of State Legislatures has asked the FCC not to eliminate its Sports Blackout Rule.

That rule backstops sports league broadcast blackout policies by preventing cable or satellite operators from carrying the blacked-out games to those local markets. The FCC has proposed scrapping the rule.

Leagues could still negotiation blackouts as part of their rights contracts. The NFL, at which the rule is primarily aimed, has made it clear it does not plan to change its blackout policy, which is generally that a game will be blacked out in the local market if it does not sell out—or meet another ticket target—by 72 hours before game time.

In a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, the conference said the rule "serve[s] the interests of states as well as the public by [helping to promote] economic activity, civic pride and the broadcast of professional football on free, over-the-air television."

The FCC rule helps promote attendance, the conference points out, and the stadiums, whose economic activity is boosted by getting fans in the seats, are often built partly with taxpayer dollars, they point out. "Thus, states share a stake in the continued use, success and vitality of sports facilities."

"The NFL is the only sports league that makes available all of its games, both regular season and  playoffs, on free television. That’s a big win for all fans," the conference wrote, "especially those who are on a fixed income and cannot afford to pay for a subscription service. However, eliminating the Sports Blackout Rule puts the local broadcast model at risk and may cause sports leagues to move sports programming from free, OTA broadcast to pay television."

"The NFL is thrashing around like a bass on the end of a hook trying to get support wherever they can, but it won't work," said David Goodfriend, chairman Sports Fans Coalition, which petitioned the FCC to get rid of the rule. "The era of government blindly subsidizing professional sports is over."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.